Comparative Nutritional Quality of Winter Crops for Silage

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Source: Virginia Cooperative Extension

Introduction

Cover crops are planted to increase the health and fertility of soils and to benefit the surrounding environment (SARE 2007). By covering the soil surface, cover crops reduce soil erosion caused by rainfall events, water runoff, wind, or their combinations. The mulchlike cover provided by cover crops also limits the access of light, thereby inhibiting or slowing the growth of weeds. Another benefit of cover crops is that the root system increases pore formation, which increases water infiltration and soil aeration and reduces soil compaction.

Adding legumes to annual crops can increase nitrogen capture from the atmosphere. This process, known as “nitrogen fixation,” occurs through a symbiotic relationship between legume plants and bacteria in the soil. When left as cover or mulch, the biomass of the winter crop can provide additional residual nitrogen for the following crop.

In dairy farming systems, the use of annual crops for forage is typically oriented to winter annual grasses, although interest in using more diverse mixtures has increased over recent years. As part of the Conservation Innovation Grants program and in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, research performed at Virginia Tech evaluated the yield and nutritional quality of diverse mixtures of winter crops for grazing or silage use.

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