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Using cover crops with fall manure applications

Livestock producers will soon be applying manure as corn silage harvest starts. To best capture the nutrients in manure, livestock producers should incorporate fall applied manure and also consider using cover crops.

The most common cover crops used with livestock manure are cereal rye, oats and radishes. However, farmers have also used wheat, clover, annual ryegrass, or almost anything they are comfortable growing.

• Cereal rye is the best cool-season grass for capturing excess nitrogen. Because rye over-winters, research has shown it can capture and hold 25 to 50 pounds of nitrogen (organic form). It germinates at lower temperatures than oats so may be planted later, but less nitrogen will be recycled the later the rye is seeded.

• Oats are sometimes used as a cover crop in the fall and need to be planted soon after silage harvest. Drilling oats improves germination and growth before frost. Some farmers in northwest Ohio have had great success surface seeding oats and incorporating them with shallow tillage.

• Another cover crop that is excellent at recycling nitrogen is oilseed radish: a fast growing, non-legume broadleaf that needs nitrogen to grow rapidly is often used with livestock manure. Needing time to grow, radishes are usually not the best option following soybeans or corn in October.

Cover crops can help livestock farmers recapture manure nutrients and conserve soil by reducing erosion. Cover crop seedings do not have to be perfect. The goal is to combine nutrient recovery and to protect the environment.

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