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0209 NowTime

2/9/2013 7:00 AM

To Get Ready for Red <\n>or Sweet Clover Frost-seeding

Leguminous cover crops are an important tool in the farmer’s toolbox. Extension soil management specialist Sjoerd Duiker tells us they help improve soil quality, fix nitrogen for the following crop, take up nitrates that might otherwise leach to groundwater and offer soil erosion protection.

With the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel, nitrogen fixing cover crops can play an important role, because about one-third of fossil fuel needs in agriculture are to produce nitrogen fertilizer. Integrating these cover crops into our production systems can help us meet some of the challenges of the future.

These clovers are dependable, low-cost leguminous cover crops. Red clover is a short-lived perennial or biennial, and yellow and white sweet clovers used in Pennsylvania are biennials. These clover species are adapted to a great variety of soil conditions, and are winter hardy in all of Pennsylvania.

Red clover does well in somewhat poorly drained conditions as well as in well-drained soils, whereas sweet clover is adapted only to well-drained soils (similar to alfalfa). Full season, overwintered red clover can produce 2 to 3 tons of dry matter per acre that can be used for forage or grazing.

Yellow sweet clover is preferred as a cover crop over white sweet clover because of its greater drought resistance and biomass production. Sweet clover biomass production can be up to 4.5 tons per acre in the first, and up to 4 tons in the second year. Sweet clover is a compaction fighter due to its determinate taproot, which may penetrate 5 feet deep.

Sweet clover is renowned for its content of coumarin, a sweet-smelling blood thinner that can cause stiffness, lameness, a dull attitude and swellings in cattle. However, improved cultivars of sweet clover contain low levels of coumarin, and should not pose a problem, especially if used as silage.

Feeding moldy sweet clover presents the greatest threat of coumarin problems. If feeding sweet clover mixed or alternating with other forage feeding problems are unlikely. In short, sweet clover can also be used as forage.

Both clovers will give a boost when following nitrogen-demanding crops such as corn, Sudan grass or sorghum. The nitrogen fertilizer equivalency is typically 80 pounds per acre.

However, the clovers also boost yield potential beyond the fertilizer value — our research suggests a 20 bushels per acre corn yield increase after a good stand of the legume that is above and beyond the fertilizer value due to its soil improving benefits (this is without spring clover harvest and using no-till to establish corn).

A great way to establish red or sweet clover is to frost seed it in winter wheat, barley or rye. It is recommended to do this in February. One counts on freezing and thawing cycles to obtain seed-to-soil contact. Spin on 15 pounds of clover seed per acre in the small grain.

After wheat harvest, there will be a fair cover of clover if all goes well. If the stand is thin, you may compensate by drilling in oats in the summer. If weedy, it is recommended to mow the clover stand in the summer to prevent such weeds as pigweed, lambsquarters and foxtail from going to seed.

You may cut the clover late in the summer or early fall for haylage. If the stand is good, it may be possible to make more clover hay next year. Terminate the clovers with a mix of glyphosate and 2,4-D or banvel.

To Complete Manure Management <\n>and Erosion and Sediment Control

As most full-time producers understand, Pennsylvania has stepped up its emphasis on agricultural regulatory compliance in the past year due to mandates handed down from the federal government.

With this increase in compliance, The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased farm inspections throughout the commonwealth.

Extension agronomist Mark Madden tells us that a consistent violation reported by DEP is the failure of farmers to have manure management plans and agricultural erosion and sedimentation plans.

Pennsylvania regulations require any animal operation that produces or uses animal manure to have a written manure management plan for baseline compliance. An agricultural E&S plan is required for anyone who tills (plows) land or has an identifiable animal heavy use area disturbing more than 5,000 square feet.

The requirements are not new. The manure management requirement has been in effect since 1977 and agricultural E&S plans since 1972. Both are relatively easy to complete as many who have attended workshops can attest.

As directed by DEP, an animal operation is defined as having as few as one cow, one horse and other numbers of animals such as llamas, alpacas, etc.

Conservation districts can be helpful if you are looking for on-farm technical assistance, and most have a goal to work with individual farmers, regardless of farm size, prior to federal or state inspections.

Pennsylvania’s nutrient management website is also a good place for producers to find more information — http://panutrientmgmt.cas.psu.edu/.

New Agronomy Guide Now Available

The 2013-14 edition of the Penn State Agronomy Guide is now available for purchase. This guide has all the same benefits of the older versions, but includes updated charts, information and added detail.

Get the latest recommendations on soils and soil fertility, corn, grain sorghum, soybeans, small grains, forages, cover crops and conservation tillage for soil erosion control, organic crop production and enterprise budgets.

The new Agronomy Guide is available at your local Penn State Extension office, on-line at http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/ or by calling 814-865-6713.

Quote of the Week

“In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.”

— Paul Harvey

Leon Ressler is district director of Penn State Cooperative Extension for Chester, Lancaster and Lebanon counties.


Did the cover crops in your area survive the severe winter without excess damage?

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4/19/2014 | Last Updated: 7:16 PM