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Rules Allow Corn, Soybean Cover Crops to Provide Fall Forage for Cattle Herds

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Corn and soybean crops planted on “prevented acres” not planted last spring may provide corn and soybean forage for cattle this fall.

With a wet spring many farmers failed to make quality hay for cow herds. Now, cover crops needed on bare crop ground may produce quality forage.

Earlier regulations on unplanted cropland restricted using cover crop for feed. For 2019, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has relaxed rules on double use. Farmers still collect prevented-planting insurance payments when harvesting forage after Sept. 1.

This time the rules allow planting corn and soybean crops for cover. Other crops, such as grain sorghum, Sudangrass and cereal grains still make covers.

Corn offers nutritious high-tonnage forage. Soybeans grow less but higher quality forage.

These two crops, or other cover crops, cannot be planted for grain or seed. Extended prevented-planting deadlines expired July 15 in Missouri. Now, planting times become critical for those cover crops.

Prevented-planting cover crop rules require close attention to details by farmers. University of Missouri Extension specialists offer ideas to help, says Rob Kallenbach, MU Extension senior program director and associate dean in agriculture and environment. Previously he was a state forage specialist.   

The USDA Risk Management Agency makes rules for the new approach. Actual insurance coverage comes from local company agents. Always check on rules, before acting.

Ray Massey, MU Extension economist, also emphasizes that first steps are to check with the local USDA office and your local insurance agent. Rules must be followed.

Topics on corn and soybean cover crops come up in University of Missouri Extension weekly teleconferences when state specialists answer questions from regional agronomists across the state. Teleconferences are held in growing seasons every year.

On June 29 farmers received a letter releasing the land for corn and soybean cover crops.

In recent years, cover crops became part of farming for many growers. There’s more benefit than erosion protection, says Greg Luce, MU Extension corn specialist. Cover crops also control weeds. Also, an unplanted field loses microbiotic growth in the root-zone. Corn planted in a field not planted the prior year loses yields.

Specialists expect more questions than answers for using corn and soybean cover crops. Little research is done.

Chopping or grazing corn for forage brings easier questions. It’s done, often.

Making soybean hay hasn’t been widespread since the 1930s. Then MU Extension helped bring soybeans from China as a hay crop. It wasn’t until later that use switched to growing oil seed and protein feeds. “We’re rarely asked about soybean planting for forage,” Luce says.

Kallenbach says soybean mowed for hay must be crimped to dry faster. “Properly adjusted mower conditioners crimp soybean stems about every two inches,” he adds.

Eric Bailey, MU Extension state beef specialist, reacted positively to news of soybean forage: “It’s super hay,” he says. “Compare it to alfalfa. Legume hay gives nutrient balance to offset bad hay we’ve baled and bagged this year.”

In earlier teleconferences, specialists called hay this year the “worst ever.” A cool wet spring slowed growth, and frequent rains fell on most hay after mowing.   

Both Massey and Kallenbach reiterated the importance of contacting local USDA and insurance offices before using corn or soybean cover crops on any acres whether covered or not by insurance. Lost payments happen by not following rules and meeting deadlines.