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Publication #HS 1142

Annual Cover Crops in Florida Vegetable Systems Part 3. Buying and Sourcing1

Danielle Treadwell, Waldemar Klassen, Michael Alligood and Stephanie Shewey2

Cover crops are crops grown for harvestable seed as well to improve the efficiency of the farming system. Cover crops can perform many ecological services on the farm, including suppressing weeds and nematodes, attracting beneficial insects, adding organic matter to the soil, supplying nitrogen, improving soil texture, and minimizing the leaching and runoff of agricultural chemicals. A wide variety of cover crops is available to producers. The subtropical Florida climate provides opportunity to use forages, tropical legumes, and, in the northern part of the state, winter annual cereals and legumes (Table 1). This publication presents points to consider when purchasing cover crop seeds and provides contact information for cover crop seed retailers and wholesalers. It is part three of a three part series. For remaining parts to the series "Annual Cover Crops in Florida Vegetable Systems" including "Part 1: Objectives" and "Part 2: Production," please visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

3a. Things to Consider When Purchasing Cover Crop Seed

Sources. Demand for cover crop seed is greater than ever. Producers who desire to reduce production costs and conserve natural resources are increasingly turning to cover crops as a method to accomplish those goals. This demand has encouraged research and breeding efforts on cover crop species. Seed sold in the U.S. is produced domestically as well as abroad. Winter annual cover crops including legumes and cereal grains are produced mostly in the northeast and in Canada. Many tropical summer legumes are produced in Hawaii, and some varieties of tropical legumes may come from Asia, India, and South America. If you decide to try something new, be sure to ask about seed size and shape to determine if the seed is appropriate for the planting equipment on your farm (Figure A, Figure B, and Figure C).

Figure 1. 

Seeds of cover crops come in all shapes and sizes. Shown here are: A) Lab-lab – legume


Credit: Danielle Treadwell
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 2. 

B) daikon – mustard


Credit: Danielle Treadwell
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 3. 

C) winter annual cereal rye- grass


Credit: Danielle Treadwell
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Seeds of cover crops come in all shapes and sizes. Shown here are: A) Lab-lab - legume, B) daikon - mustard, C) winter annual cereal rye- grass (photo credits D. Treadwell).

Cost. There are many advantages to planting cover crops, such as reduced erosion and enhancement of biological control and nutrient cycling. There are also disadvantages, including additional production costs, delays in planting vegetables, increased pest occurrence and N immobilization. Most of these disadvantages can be avoided with a little research and good planning and execution.

Cover crop costs and benefits should be evaluated based on the degree the crops will fulfill agroecosystem services and production objectives. The complexity of cropping systems that include cover crops can make it extremely difficult to assign a dollar figure to the benefits, particularly those that are achieved in the long term. In one recent analysis of cover crop benefits and costs, Snapp et al. (2005) observed that, in general, cereal cover crops were best suited to increase soil organic matter; legumes were best suited to provide nitrogen, and brassicas were most effective at controlling a wide spectrum of soil pests.

The cost of seed will be influenced by the country of origin and the distance it must travel to get to your address. The cost per pound of cover crop seed is most often very reasonable for the ecological services cover crops provide (Snapp et al., 2005). A pound of winter annual rye typically costs between 75 cents to $2.00 a pound. When seeded to 50 pounds an acre, the cost ranges from $38 to $100 per acre.

Legume Inoculants. When purchasing legume seeds, it is important to also purchase the correct inoculant. Inoculation is the application of specific nitrogen-fixing bacteria to the seeds before planting. The cross-inoculation groups of most of the field and forage legumes commonly grown in Florida are tabulated in Adjei, et al. (2006). These nitrogen-fixing bacteria attach to roots of legumes and convert nitrogen gas from our atmosphere to a form of nitrogen that the legume can use. A summary of recommended inoculants for legumes is provided in Table 2 below. Inoculants are an inexpensive method to use to ensure a good stand and to improve the efficiency of nitrogen fixation. They can be mixed in dry with cover crop seed before planting, but research indicates that using a sticking agent improves nitrogen fixation (SAN, 2007). For improved contact and retention, add a mixture of 10% sugar syrup and water to the cover crop seed prior to adding inoculant. The inoculant contains live organisms; therefore, do not expose it to direct sun or excessive heat. Store inoculant in the refrigerator, and use it before the expiration date. Contact information for inoculant retailers is noted in Table 3 below. To learn more about inoculation of legumes, see: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AA126.

GMO-Free Cover Crop Seed. Some retailers offer seed with claims that it is free of genetic material created by genetic engineering biotechnologies. The claim typically reads "GMO-free," which means that seeds are free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Laboratory tests can detect genetically modified seed. If producers desire to have GMO-free seed, they should contact the retailer and request documentation for the claim. Several federal agencies are involved in the regulation and oversight of GMO seed and other agricultural products. Claims that products are GMO-free are not regulated by the federal government.

Organic Cover Crop Seed. Many producers who are transitioning to organic frequently ask where they can purchase organic cover crop seed locally. Fortunately, there are several locations in Florida and neighboring southeastern states that sell certified organic cover crop seed. The National Organic Program Standards on annual seeds including cover crop seed state that organically grown seeds must be used (CFR 205.204). Many commercially available cover crop seeds have been treated with prohibited substances such as a synthetic fungicide, but in many cases untreated seed is available.

Nonorganic, untreated seeds can be used as a last resort in the following situations:

  • When an equivalent organically produced variety is not available, untreated seeds may be used.

  • When a temporary variance has been awarded by the producer's certification agency.

Treated seeds can be used in the following situations:

  • When the seed treatment is allowed by the National Standards (such as certain seed-pelleting materials for small seeded crops).

  • When federal or state phytosanitary regulations require that seed be treated with a prohibited substance (such as a synthetic pesticide).

Producers who plant nonorganic, untreated seed must provide documentation to support why organic seeds were not planted. Documentation typically includes a written account of at least three attempts (phone calls, written requests) for organic cover crop seed to support a substitution. Treated seed use must be supported by documented evidence of federal or state regulations. Organic producers are required to save all seed labels for their records. As always, producers must get approval from their certification agency before making any changes or substitutions to their farm plans. For more information on organic seeds, please see "Seed Production and Seed Sources of Organic Vegetables" at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs227. Contact information of some seed suppliers that provide organic cover crop seed are identified in Table 3 below.

Seed Availability. Popular cover crops such as sorghum-sudangrass and cowpea have many named varieties and are widely available at local feed and seed stores and national seed retailers such as Johnny's Seeds. Frequently, seeds of these varieties are treated with a fungicide to prevent seed-borne diseases, but vendors are often very accommodating, and with advance notice they will work with suppliers to reserve seed prior to treatment. Certified organic cover crop seed is becoming increasingly available, but demand is greater than supply, and therefore seed can be expensive.

Cover crops with emerging popularity, such as velvetbean and sunn hemp, can be difficult to locate in large amounts. Many cover crops are sold as unnamed cultivars and are available from a limited number of sources. National retailers specializing in open pollinated seed are a good source for unnamed cultivars. Awareness of the diversity of cover crops has been facilitated by research efforts at universities and innovative producers. However, cover crop breeding efforts at universities and private industries is sporadic. Perhaps if demand for cover crops increases, there will be increased motivation to invest in research and development for crop improvement. For more information on retail sources of cover crop seeds, please refer to the online seed databases from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (http://www.attra.org) and the Organic Materials Review Institute (http://www.omri.org).

3b. Sources of Cover Crops.

For small farmers, a number of seed saving and exchange organizations can facilitate the search for specialty seed. These organizations typically are not-for-profit and include, Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) (http://www.echonet.org), and Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org). Additional resources not tabulated below include local seed and feed retailers, local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office (http://www.fl.nrcs.usda.gov ), and area farmers.

Summary

In summary, integration of cover crops in a cropping system can have significant ecological impacts on the cropping system including crop establishment, nutrient availability and pest occurrence. Producers have many options in cover crop species selection and management, and objectives will be dictated by producer needs and production constraints. Cover crop management does require some preplanning, but the contributions to the farming system can be very beneficial. A plan for planting, mowing and termination is needed to avoid delays and costly errors. If you are new to cover crops, it's a good idea to experiment with a few well-selected species in an area large enough to accommodate the equipment you plan to use before you implement cover crops on the whole farm.

Literature Cited

Abdul-Baki, A. A., H. H. Bryan, G. M. Zinati, W. Klassen, M. Codallo, N. Heckert. 2001. Biomass yield and flower production in sunn hemp: Effect of cutting the main stem. J. Veg. Crop Prod. 71(1):83-104.

Adjei, M. B., K. H. Quesenberry and C.G. Chambliss. 2006. Nitrogen fixation and inoculation of forage legumes: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AG152.

Piper, C. V. and W. J. Morse. 1928. The velvet bean. Farmers Bulletin No. 1276. U. S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC.

[SAN] Sustainable Agriculture Network. 2007. Managing cover crops profitably. A. Clark (ed.). Beltsville, MD. 244 pp.

Snapp, S.S., S.M. Swinton, R. Labarta, D. Mutch, J.R. Black, R. Leep, J. Nyiraneza and K. ONeil. 2005. Evaluating cover crops for benefits, costs and performance within cropping system niches. Agron. J. 97(1):322-332.

Tables

Table 1. 

Annual cover crops used in Florida common to tropical and temperate Regions.

Cover Crop

Scientific name

Tropical Legumes

Alfalfa

Medicago sativa L.

American jointvetch

Aeschynomene americana L.

Cowpea

Vigna unguiculata L. Walp.

Jackbean

Canavalia ensiformis L. DC.

Lablab

Lablab purpureus L.

Pigeon pea

Cajanus cajan L. Millspaugh

Soybean

Glycine max L. Merr.

Sunn hemp

Crotalaria juncea L.

Velvet bean

Mucuna pruriens, M. deeringiana Bort. Merr.

White lupin

Lupinus albus L.

Temperate Legumes

Alfalfa

Medicago sativa L.

Alyce clover

Alysicarpus ovalifolius (Schumacher) J. Léonard

Austrian winter pea

Pisum sativum spp. arvense (L.) Poir.

Crimson clover

Trifolium incarnatum L.

Hairy vetch

Vicia villosa Roth

Ladino clover

Trifolium repens L.

Soybean

Glycine max L.

 

Tropical Non-legumes

Millet, Japanese

Echinochloa crus-galli var. frumentacea Link

Millet, pearl

Pennisetum typoides syn. P. glaucum (L.) R. Br.

Sorghum

Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench spp. bicolor

Sorghum-sudangrass

Sorghum bicolor X S. sudanense (Piper) Stapf.

Temperate Non-legumes

Annual ryegrass

Lolium multiflorum Lam.

Buckwheat

Fagopyrum esculentum Moench

German foxtail millet

Setaria italica (L.) Beauv.

Maize

Zea mays L.

Oats

Avena sativa L.

Millet, pearl

Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.

Rape

Brassica napus L.

Rye

Secale cereale L.

Texas panicum

Panicum texanum (Buckl.) R. Webster

Table 2. 

Recommended inoculants for legume cover crops.

Legume

Recommended Inoculant Group(s)

Aeschynomene

Cowpeas

Lespedeza

Cowpeas or Lespedeza

Crimson Clover

Berseem Clover

Crimson or Berseem

Field Peas

Hairy Vetch

Woolypod Vetch

Pea or Vetch

Medics

Annual Medics

Red Clover

White Clover

Red Clover or White Clover

Subterranean Clover

Subterranean Clover or Clover or Rose

Sweetclover

Alfalfa or Sweet Clover

Sunn Hemp

Cowpea EL (based on Abdul-Baki et al., 2001)

Velvetbean

Cowpea EL (based on Piper and Morse, 1928)

Table 3. 

A summary of contact information for US retailers that sell cover crop seed and rhizobium inoculant.

Southeast Retailers

Seed Company

Products

Contact Information

Adams-Briscoe Seed Co., Inc.

Treated seed

Untreated seed upon request

Inoculant

325 East Second Street (shippping)

PO Box 19 (mailing)

Jackson, GA 30233-2266

Phone (770) 775-7826 or (877) 775-7826

Fax (770) 775-7122

http://www.abseed.com/

C. M. Payne and Sons, Inc.

Specialize in forage legumes

9410 Payne Rd

Sebring, FL 33875-9716

Phone (863) 385-4642

Diamond R Fertilizer

Treated seed

Untreated seed upon request

Custom seed mixes

321 N. Hennis Rd.

P.O. Box 12489

Winter Garden, FL 34787

Phone (407) 656-3007

Fax (407) 656-3903

http://www.diamond-r.com/locations.htm

Haile-Dean Seed Co.

Treated seed

501 N. Hennis Rd.

Winter Garden, FL 34787-2407

Phone (407) 877-3333 or (800) 423-7333

Mixon Seed Company

Treated seed

P.O. Box 1652

Orangeburg, SC 29116-1652

Phone (803) 531-1777 or (800) 922-1377

Fax: (803) 534-5027

Southern States

Treated seed

Untreated seed upon request

Many locations throughout Florida

Contact information available online:

http://www.southernstates.com/storelocations/index.aspx

Agrium United Agriculture Products

Treated seed

Untreated seed upon request

Contact information for all locations in the state available online:

http://www.uap.com/

1-800-837-3426

Wise Seed Company, Inc.

All Untreated seed

930 Highway 630 West

Frostproof, FL 33843-9771

Phone (863) 635-4473

Fax (863) 635-4880

http://wiseseed.net/

Wolf & Wolf Seeds

Organic seed

Untreated seed

2747 Dorell Ave,

Orlando, FL

Phone (407) 481-0810 or (407) 481-0810

Fax (407) 481-0840

http://www.wolfseeds.com

Northeast Retailers

Albert Lea Seedhouse, Inc.

Treated seed

Untreated seed

Organic seed

PO Box 127

1414 W. Main Street

Albert Lea, MN 50007

Phone (800) 352-5247

Fax (507) 373-7032

http://www.alseed.com

Buckwheat Growers Assoc. Of Minnesota

Untreated seed

Organic seed

GMO-free

206 Aldrich Avenue

Wadena, MN 56482

Phone (218) 631-9212

http://www.buckwheatgrowers.com

Fedco Seeds/Organic Growers Supply

Untreated Seed

PO Box 520

Waterville, ME 04903

Phone (207) 873-7333

http://www.fedcoseeds.com

Johnnys Selected Seeds

Treated Seed

Untreated seed

Heirloom, Organic Seed and Inoculant

955 Benton Ave

Winslow, ME 04901

Phone (877) 564-6697 or (207) 861-3900

http://www.johnnyseeds.com

High Mowing Seeds

Organic Seed

 

76 Quarry Rd.,

Wolcott, VT 05680

Phone 802-472-6174

Fax 802-472-3201

http://www.highmowingseeds.com/

Midwestern Bio-Ag

Untreated seed

GMO-free seed

PO Box 160

10955 Blackhawk Drive

Blue Mounds, WI 53517

Phone (800) 327-6012

Fax (608) 437-4441

http://www.midwesternbioag.com

EMD Crop BioScience

formerly Nitragin, Inc.

Rhizobial inoculants

13100 West Lisbon Avenue

Suite 600

Brookfield, WI 53005

Phone (262) 957-2122

Fax (262) 957-2121

North Country Organics

Untreated seed

Organic seed

PO Box 372

203 Depot Street

Bradford, VT 05033

Phone (802) 222-4277

Fax (802) 222-9661

http://www.norganics.com

Western Retailers

Bailey Seed Company

Untreated seed

Organic seed

PO Box 12788

2430 SE McGilchrist

Salem, OR 97302

Phone (800) 407-7713 or (503) 362-9700

Fax (503) 362-1705

http://www.baileyseed.com

Bountiful Gardens

Untreated seed

18001 Shafer Ranch Road

Willits, CA 95490-9626

Phone (707) 459-6410

Fax (707) 459-1925

http://www.bountifulgardens.org/

Harmony Farm Supply & Nursery

Untreated seed

Organic seed

PO Box 460

3244 Hwy 116 N

Sebastopol, CA 95472

Phone (707) 823-9125

Fax (707) 825-1734

http://www.harmonyfarm.com

Kauffman Seeds

Treated seeds

Untreated seeds

7508 S. Mayfield Road

Haven, KS 67543

Phone (620) 465-2245 or (800) 634-2836

Fax (620) 465-3565

Planet Natural

Untreated seed

Organic seed

1612 Gold Avenue

Bozeman, MT 59715

Phone (800) 289-6656 (orders only)

Fax (406) 587-0223

http://www.planetnatural.com

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

Untreated seed

Organic seed

PO Box 2209

125 Clydesdale Court

Grass Valley, CA 95945

Phone (530) 272-4769 or 1-888-784-1722

Fax: (530) 272-4794

http://www.groworganic.com

Territorial Seed Company

Untreated seed

PO Box 158

21 Palmer Ave.

Cottage Grove, OR 97424-0061

Phone (541) 942-9547 or 1-800-626-0866

Fax (888) 657-3131

http://www.territorial-seed.com

Footnotes

1.

This document is HS 1142, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date March 2008. Revised April 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Danielle Treadwell, assistant professor and Michael Alligood, biological scientist. University of Florida, Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Horticultural Sciences Department, PO Box 110690, Gainesville, FL 32611; and Waldemar Klassen, professor, UF-IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center, 18905 SW 280 St., Homestead FL 33031.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication does not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition. All chemicals should be used in accordance with directions on the manufacturer's label. Use pesticides safely. Read and follow directions on the manufacturer's label.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.