URBANA, Ill. — The 2018 growing season has experienced above average temperatures and rainfall leading to rapid plant growth and development. Despite the typical reduction in rainfall throughout the first half of July, the most recent crop ratings still have Illinois corn rated at 80% good/excellent with 70% of the crop silking (R1 growth stage). Even though early crop ratings are not the greatest indicator of final yield, it seems we are in great shape to finish strong in Northern Illinois with cooler temperatures expected throughout the early grain filling period. This year’s corn crop may hit maturity by the end of August, according to growing degree day (GDD) accumulation so far. With earlier maturity dates generally comes earlier harvest; this means that fields could be cleared as early as the middle of September, providing the opportunity for winter annuals to become established before the first frost. So with nearly a month before the average first frost on October 17, is this the year to try cover crops? Short answer, maybe.
Typically, conditions in Northern Illinois are not suited to cover crop use as shortened growing seasons and harsh winters make proper establishment difficult. In addition, with the uncertainty in the markets and low commodity prices expected, many are not in the position to take the risk. However, for producers who are already planning to do some fall field operations or those who have been eager to try them in the past, maybe this is the year give them a try. Most of us are aware of the proposed benefits of cover crops including: reduced erosion and nutrient loss, improved water holding capacity nutrient cycling, as well as pathogen and weed suppression. There are a wide variety of cover crops out there, each with specific functions which may or may not benefit your operation: For example, tillage radish has been used to alleviate compaction while cereal rye is known for ease of establishment and nutrient scavenging.
Cover crops are not without their own unique challenges; specialized equipment, residual herbicides, and successful termination prior to cash crop planting may be obstacles to overcome for successful integration into your cropping system. It is for these reasons that producers should take a good, hard look before making decisions regarding the use of cover crops. Despite these challenges, those who have had success with cover crops swear by them. Given that the combines will be rolling shortly and the grain bins will soon be filled, what are your plans for the fall? Tillage? Burn down? Why not consider giving cover crops a try? For questions and resources regarding the use of cover crops contact Phillip Alberti, Crop Science Educator with University of Illinois Extension in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at firstname.lastname@example.org, 815-235-4125 or on Twitter (@NorthernILCrops).
— University of Illinois Extension
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