The majority of annual grain, oilseeds, and pulses grown in Canada and the United States are planted in spring ahead of the summer season or from early to mid-summer in order to ensure sufficient crop maturity ahead of the first frost. However, a small number of annual cash crops can be seeded in fall and then harvested the following spring or summer. There are significant advantages to overwintered cash crops such as helping to distribute seeding and harvesting work more evenly throughout the year and making soil health Principle 4 (Continual Live Plant/Root) possible without using a cover crop.
New crop variety development
Winter rye, winter wheat, and triticale have long been the pillars of overwintered cash crops. In locations north of the 43rd parallel, winter canola and winter camelina varieties are now widely available and they provide some much-needed diversity to traditional winter small grains. Locations south of 43rd parallel may not have much success with winter canola and winter camelina due to milder winters, but new varieties of winter barley, winter-tolerant oats, and winter forage peas are all good choices for producers looking to diversify beyond winter rye, winter wheat, and triticale.
Overwintered annual cash crops can present an opportunity for double cropping in locations south of the 43rd parallel. Provided that significant soil moisture is available, a second cash crop can be sown or planted immediately after harvest. Second cash crops could include short day corn, short day sunflowers, foxtail millet, or even buckwheat.
Mixed Grain Intercropping
Mixed grain intercropping is on its way to becoming a commercially significant practice in Canada and the United States. But it is typically done using spring-seeded cash crops. Overwintered annual cash crops could lead to some interesting mixed grain intercrop combinations, such as winter tolerant oats-winter forage pea or winter canola-winter forage pea. These combinations could provide the advantages of both an overwintered cash crop and a mixed grain intercrop.
Relay cropping is becoming more well-known south of the 43rd parallel. The winter wheat-soy combination is the most popular winter small grain-spring pulse relay combination at this time. However, combinations of winter wheat-dry bean or winter wheat-lentil offer similar agronomic advantages and there is no good reason why these combinations couldn’t work as effectively as the winter wheat-soy relay combination. Relay cropping is a practice that is typically not used in areas north of the 43rd parallel thanks to a shorter growing season. However, a winter small grain-spring small grain relay crop could be viable if the spring small grain was seeded relatively late and the winter small grain was cut for green feed before the spring small grain reached the reproductive stage.