Cover Crops Following Weather-damaged Bean and Corn Harvests
After early harvest, ground that lies bare has two things working against it. One is exposure to wind and water erosion. And two, it isn't growing anything. Cover crops might help you overcome both problems.
For plantings after mid-August, small grains almost always are the best choice for cover crops. But which small grain you plant can make a difference, depending on what you want to achieve with your cover crop.
For example, are you still hoping for some feed this fall? Then the best choice might be oats, because oats has the greatest forage yield potential in the fall. Another advantage of oats is it will die over winter so it won't interfere with next year's crop. But, dead residue from oats is not very durable, so it provides less effective soil protection for a shorter duration.
For better soil protection, rye is a better choice. And rye can provide abundant growth early next spring to get cows off of hay sooner. Its fall growth usually is better than wheat or triticale, but nowhere near that of oats.
To maximize late spring forage yield and quality, especially as hay or silage, triticale is an excellent choice. It may be more expensive to plant, but it can't be beat for spring forage.
And, finally, winter wheat is likely to be your choice if grain is your eventual goal following winter soil protection. Small grain cover crops preserve your soil and can be useful crops as well. Consider them following your early harvests.
Dr. Bruce Anderson, Professor of Agronomy
Extension Forage Specialist
Agronomy & Horticulture, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lincoln, NE