High demand, tight supply challenging cover crop boom
Illinois farmers are searching as far as Canada to find quality cover crop seed as demand outstrips domestic supply.
Published: Sep 14, 2012
“The No. 1 problem I’m seeing is a shortage of seed,” said Mike Plumer, an agriculture consultant from Creal Springs and retired University of Illinois Extension educator.
One farmer told Plumer he saved $4 to $5 per bag by importing two semi-truck loads of seed from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Plumer estimated the two truckloads would hold enough seed to plant 2,000 to 4,000 acres, depending on the crop species.
“I’ve talked to guys planning to plant 4,000 to 5,000 acres (of cover crops) this year,” he added.
Cover crop benefits, especially in absorbing and holding nitrogen overwinter, fueled interest this year. Plumer said he has seen yield increases in both corn and soybean crops on fields that had cover crops, compared to those without cover crops.
Joel Gruver, a soil scientist at Western Illinois University, reinforced Plumer’s outlook: “Interest is high.”
Big demand coupled with a tight seed supply are resulting in some seed mixes that contain unsuitable cover crops, according to Plumer.
“We’re seeing people selling all kinds of garden radishes -- red and white garden radishes,” Plumer warned.
Unlike forage daikon radishes, garden radishes aren’t appropriate cover crops. Plumer explained some unsuitable seed with a variety name, such as wonder radish, has been added to and sold in seed mixes.
Gruver said he was not surprised that questionable seed was being sold: “The cover crop seed industry is growing very quickly. Most growth has occurred in the last five years. (Daikon) radishes weren’t even known as a cover crop 10 years ago.”
Timing and challenging weather are causing some farmers to wonder if a cover crop will be established before winter.
To Plumer, mid-September is the cutoff time for cover crop planting in Central Illinois, while Northern Illinois fields need to be seeded even earlier.
However, Gruver said he did not think it was too late to plant small grain cover crops, such as cereal rye, anywhere in the state. “I feel comfortable planting into November,” he added.
Both Plumer and Gruver noted certain cover crops, such as clover and daikon radishes and other brassicas, are the most sensitive to temperature change.
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