Experienced cover crop growers have an edge getting into fields this soggy spring

Rain-soaked Indiana growers are still facing some of this spring's most severe planting delays. But no-till cover crop growers are gaining a time advantage: Fibrous roots of the covers keep the soil firmer, the grasses and legumes are wicking up excess rain, and root pathways help rain infiltrate. 

June 5, 2019 — When Hal Brown of Mulberry, IN found his soil finally fit to plant in early June, he unleashed Windy Lane Farms' Horsch no-till planters for corn and soybeans, planting over 500 acres per day. 

In most of Hal's cover-crop fields, the rye is as tall as the planter wheels. There's also a lower-growing blend of other cover species hidden by the rye.

 

"Planting Green"

"We plant green and terminate the covers with Gramoxone, which has no impact on soil life," he says.

This season there's little concern about tall covers sponging up moisture that will be needed for crops later. 

 

For a full view of this type of planter, see the company-provided photo below. Planter units are electrically driven and fed by a center seed hopper. Computer control of seed spacing allows automatic changes in metering speed when the planter rounds curve in the field, so spacing remains constant. The planter can also carry liquid fertilizer in a central tank.

 

Company photo of a Horsch planter

 

 

 The two brief videos below, shot by someone brave riding the planter, show how smoothly each planter unit rides over the no-till field. Hal skipped in-furrow treatment this spring to keep the planter lighter, because "conditions are marginal."

 

 

 

Crimping may save a burndown herbicide pass. When cereal rye is well into pollen shed, roller-crimping will kill most of the tillers. You can read a helpful discussion on crimping rye, written by Nick Ohde, Practical Farmers of Iowa Communications Director, at this link. 

Hal shot the photo below of a neighbor's crimper at work. His own new one will arrive in a few days.

Planter wings fold 90 degrees to ride on the planter caddy, either side of the seed tank. The seed and liquid nutrient load provides down pressure on the wings for uniform planting depth.

 

Closer view shows simple structure of individual planter units. Double-disk openers slice through standing covers easily. Trash whippers aren't needed to clear a smooth planting row. Uniform seed depth is easier to maintain when planting into standing cover crops or undisturbed stubble compared to rolled, crimped or shredded cover residue. When crimped after planting, rye stems form a thatch against weeds and do not immediately begin decomposing. Thus there's less competition for N and other nutrients compared with shredded and incorporated residue, which begins breaking down immediately. See this link for Iowa State agronomist Bob Hartzier's explanation of allelopathic effect.