Corn harvest has wrapped up for several growers, leaving a number of fields empty for the remainder of the summer. Rather than letting fields sit empty, some growers are giving cover crops a try. Here is Carl Coleman of Dillon County in a mixed cover crop field he planted in early July. He is counting on this cover crop suppressing pigweed as well as saving him some money on fertilizer next season.
Weed control continues to be important after corn is harvested. It is always a bad idea to walk away from and allow weeds to grow up and produce seed. Many growers manage these fields with herbicides, though some are now trying cover crops as a means of cultural control. This is a mixed cover including peas, sorghum sudan, and sunflowers. It seems to be doing a pretty good job of out competing pigweed so far.
Cover crops can also provide some nutrients to the following crop. It is unlikely that fertilizer can be avoided altogether, but it may be possible to reduce the amount used. Buz Kloot from the University of South Carolina is working with NRCS, Clemson, and a number of growers in the Pee Dee to try to figure out how much fertilizer rates can be reduced without decreasing production. Below is a photo of the roots of a pea plant. You can see the Rhizobium nodules growing on the root which help the plant fix nitrogen from the air. For this reason, legumes are usually part of a cover crop mix. Hopefully some of this nitrogen will be available to the next crop.
Here is the mix that Carl is planting in his corn fields now. This is a mix of clay peas, sorghum sudan, radish, sunflower, buckwheat, and clover.
Planting is being done with a 24 row no-till drill with a roller on the back to knock down the corn residue. Wheat will be planted behind this cover crop in the fall.