Oats Used in Cover Crop Mixes – Liability?

June 6, 2019 Alert
Oats Used In Cover Crop Mixes – Liability?
by Neal R. Foster, PhD., Executive Director, SD Crop Improvement Association
Because of the extremely wet spring that South Dakota and the region has experienced, the demand for cover crop seed will be high this summer. Cover crop mixtures are normally a mixture of legumes, grasses, brassicas, and a few other species that are beneficial to soil health and stabilization. Each part of the mixture has an important role to play in soil health.
Legumes, usually peas or lentils, will fix nitrogen for other plants in the mixture and the future crop. Brassicas, like canola have a strong penetrating taproot that leaves a hole in the soil loosening it and providing for better water uptake. Additionally canola is a good at carbon sink that will help improve organic matter. Radishes, another Brassica, are also added to the mixture for the same reasons as canola. There are several types of radish seed available on the market, however forage or oilseed types are best for cover crops. Grasses, like oats have a large fibrous root system that improves soil structure and provides a food source for the microorganisms that are important to your soil health. Flax is also added to cover crop mixtures. The flax plant has lignin in the stem; this allows the plant to remain erect throughout the winter. The standing flax straw provides a way to break the wind preventing wind erosion and catching snow for better spring moisture.
When buying seed for cover crops the old adage “you get what you pay for and then some” fits very well. Buying the cheapest seed can cause you more grief in the long run. Cheap seed is cheap for a reason. Has it been tested to ensure performance and cleanliness? Is it free of noxious weed seed? There have been several instances of Palmer Amaranth being introduced into the state as a result of cheap, low quality seed. Is the seed in the mixture a Plant Variety Protection (PVP) variety being sold illegally?
Several years ago, the SDSU oat breeding program was about to be closed. At that time oats were becoming more of a minor crop and there was not much industry support. The South Dakota Crop Improvement Association (SDCIA) board of directors opposed closing the breeding program and decided to provide support to keep the program going. Over the last 10 years SDCIA has invested three quarters of a million dollars. This investment has paid off in varieties like Goliath, Hayden, Horsepower, Shelby 427 and Natty. With the continued support of SDCIA the oat breeding program will continue to develop oat varieties that meet the growing demands for grain and forage. The program is starting to develop oats that would be used specifically for cover crops – selecting for a larger, more vigorous root system.
Small grain variety releases from SDSU have royalties associated with them. This income stream is vital to maintain the breeding programs, providing land, equipment and research. With the tightening of state dollars for support, the royalties also help to maintain and grow the breeding programs and provide better seed for the future.
Additionally, all of the small grain varieties released from SDSU through SDCIA have Plant Variety Protection with Title V. This means that these varieties can only be sold as seed by variety name as a class of certified seed. When grain is sold from a local elevator it is grain and not seed. If the local elevator sells any of the protected varieties as grain for seeding purposes (this includes cover crop mixes) they are in violation of the Federal Plant Variety Protection Act. In recent years SDSU has taken a harder stance on infringement of their varieties. Recently a PVP case was settled in Iowa for 2.975 million dollars. This lawsuit involved SDSU oat varieties that were being illegally sold for cover crop mixtures. There is plenty of legal seed available for the cover crop market, so before contemplating using uncertified bin run seed you should ask yourself or your governing body if these sales are worth the risk.
If you have questions, please feel free to contact the SDCIA office: 605/688-4606.
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Kathy Zander, Executive Director
Roxanne Rice, Finance Director
Phone: 605/224-2445
Fax: 605/224-9913
Email: info@sdaba.org
Website: www.sdaba.org