With fall harvest underway in many parts of the state now is the time to think about planting a cover crop after your fall grain crop is harvested.

A cover crop can provide many soil health benefits.

This includes building organic matter, improving soil porosity, increasing nutrient cycling, and increasing soil water holding capacity.

A cover crop can also provide excellent weed suppression and a fair amount of livestock forage through the winter and spring if planted timely.

Putting the right cover crop mix together is essential in having a successful planting. The species you use in the mix will depend on what you are trying to accomplish.

If you are wanting to break up some compaction include some deep tap rooted plants like radishes, turnips, rape and other species from the brassica family.

If increasing organic matter and water holding capacity is your goal plant a species with a vigorous fibrous root system.

Winter cereal grains like triticale, barley, wheat and rye would be good choices.

To increase infiltration a combination of deep-rooted and fibrous rooted plants should be used.

Decaying tap roots provide channels for water to directly infiltrate into the soil. Fibrous rooted plant help feed the soil microbes. These bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms produce the organic glues that help bind the individual soil particles of sand, silt and clay into larger soil aggregates.

This provides more pore space in the soil where water can infiltrate when it rains.

For grazing you will want to have a mix that is predominately a winter cereal grain, like wheat, barley, triticale or rye.

Mixes that are heavy with these species are also good for weed suppression since they cover and shade the ground quickly and compete well with weeds.

It is best to get the cover crop planted as soon as possible after the cash crop is harvested. This will give the cover crop time to get established and get some growth before it gets to cold.

If the planting ends up being past the end of October, you will want to select species that have a fair amount of cold and frost tolerance.

Triticale, rye and cold tolerant brassica plants work well in these situations.

Always consider the economics of planting a cover crop. There is no reason to plant a $30 to $40 mix when one that cost $15 will do the job.

Wheat may be a good choice to use as a cover crop given its current price.

For more information about this or other soil health practices, contact Younker dale.younker@usda.gov or any local NRCS office.