The wind events in June of 2022 were horrendous and at unprecedented levels moving soil, injuring sugarbeets, reducing stands and causing replants in an already late year. Cover crops are one of the only defenses available to protect the sugarbeet and soil from moving.
The below picture is of dead seedling sugarbeets from wind damage and soil movement from this past June.
The chart below is from American Crystal’s grower production data base showing the 5 year average production and economic benefit of using a cover crop. This data represents both fall and spring seeded cover/nurse crops as a “cover crop”. On average there is a benefit of 243 lbs. of recoverable sugar/acre and $36/acre. However, the benefit can be even greater if extreme stand loss and replanting is avoided by using a cover crop. Replanting creates extra production costs along with decreased yield potential.
In this Ag Note are some cover crop ideas from the ACSC Ag Staff and from Dr. Tom Peters on the research he has done.
We typically use the term “cover crop” interchangeably for fall & spring seeded cover crops; however, they can be categorized two ways:
Cover crop: Seeded and established in the fall and overwinters until the following spring and is present as the crop is planted.
Nurse crop: Seeded in the spring and establishes as a companion crop with the main crop.
Spring Seeded Nurse Crop
We are very familiar with seeding barley, wheat, or oats at about a ½ bushel/acre in the spring with sugarbeets for protection against high winds. This is a great practice and has been done for years and is highly encouraged.
Terminate the nurse crop before it starts competing with the sugarbeet, the carcass of the plant will still provide protection
Preemerge herbicide applications and spring seeded nurse crops:
This can be tricky as preemerge herbicides may reduce the spring seeded nurse crop’s stand as it must emerge through it.
One must decide what is of greatest need in the field when weighing the risks and rewards of spring nurse crops and preemerge herbicides. Is it weed control or wind protection?
Giving the nurse crop a head start in germinating in the spring is a way to overcome this to some extent.
Spring seeded nurse crops safety to preemerge herbicides:
Fall Seeded Cover Crop
There is an advantage to having a fall-seeded cover crop as it is already in-place and established in the spring right as sugarbeets are being planted. Winter wheat and rye can be great options for this.
Below are some fall seeded cover crop examples:
Banding rye in-between sugarbeet rows: This another idea that has been done in the fall and is a very controlled cover crop placement in the off-set rows. It reduces competition with sugarbeet in the spring while still protecting the seedling. However, it does require a bit more time in field preparation.
Common ways this has been accomplished is by:
Pre-Piled Sugarbeet Fields – consider planting a cover crop!
Planting a cover crop in August & September, even if just on headlands and in opening splits, can go a long way in protecting a field from wind erosion over the winter/early spring. This can be seeded after pre-pile and tilled in, or aerial applied over the canopy to be incorporated by the activity of harvest.