Let’s face it – unless you, the farmer, can derive great benefit from the use of cover crops, this venture will be utterly useless and a waste of time. If there is no benefit, just keep doing the things you’ve already been practicing. However, if cover crops can really add to our bottom line (and a whole host of other side benefits), then they are worth understanding AND implementing.
Cover Crop Benefits
Crimson clover is a real jewel among the cover crop species. Crimson clover is an excellent producer of nitrogen and there are some newer varieties on the market that are very winterhardy even into Michigan. Dr. Eileen Kladivko measured how much nitrogen was produced by crimson clover in a test plot in western Indiana. What she found was quite amazing! After around 90 days the crimson clover had produced over 140# of nitrogen per acre! Now, this was a limited test of one plot but the best of the other plots came in at just over 50# N produced. That is a significant amount of nitrogen.
Crimson clover mixes very well with annual ryegrass (to help the ryegrass be healthier and growing better when there is no manure applied). It also mixes well with cover crop radishes and or turnips. Crimson clover is generally considered more shade tolerant so it works well aerial applied into standing corn.
Crimson clover MUST be inoculated for best success.
I have listed some advantages and disadvantages below:
Advantages of Crimson Clover:
- There are some excellent new varieties on the market that are more winterhardy.
- There are earlier maturing varieties that mature early enough to make more N in the spring before killing.
- At around 90 days after wheat it can produce upwards towards 140 units of nitrogen.
- Earthworms love the environment around the roots of crimson clover…it’s creates “earthworm heaven!”
- It is easy to kill in the spring.
Disadvantages of Crimson Clover:
- VNS and MOST older varieties will probably not survive the winter in the Midwest.
- It has some hard seed so you may see some coming up some months after planting.
- If it is a very late wet spring there is a slight chance the clover will re-seed itself.