I read an article in Strip-Till Strategies in February in which Iowa strip-tiller and no-tiller Gordon Wassenaar said he planned to start using cover crops to provide more protection for his soil.
I’m working as an agronomist for SLY France, the distributor of the Twin Diamond Strip Cat strip-till units for Europe. I’m also part of a conservation agriculture association in France named Biodiversity, Agriculture, Soil and Environment (BASE).
I think strip-till and cover crops could go hand in hand. Most of my customers are using cover crops and the majority of them mix cereals, legumes and brassicas. They will kill it in the winter, 1 or 2 months ahead of their planting date. Then they strip-till and plant corn, sunflowers or sugarbeets.
OVERSEAS RIG. A Twin Diamond Industries Strip Cat strip-till machine runs through a mix of forage radishes, oats, white mustard, phacelia, sunflowers and legumes last September in western France. (Photo courtesy of SLY France.)
By combining strip-till and cover crops, we’ve seen the benefits of covers throughout France in the form of better soil structure, fertility and soil biology.
My boss, Cyrille Geneste, is farming in heavy clay soil. He rotates winter wheat, winter canola, sunflowers, soybeans and corn. We recently set up a trial plot with different cover crops. We strip-tilled in fall 2011 through the cover crop and will be planting sunflowers this spring.
The previous crop was wheat. We drilled the cover crop on Aug. 8, 2011. Different species are chickling vetch, fenugrec, forage sorghum, lentils, red clover and buckwheat. We managed to harvest the buckwheat. Everything got an application of Roundup in mid-January.
I never advise my customer to use any one species more than another. There is no simple answer and there is no plant that can serve as the answer to all purposes. I prefer to mix a minimum of 3 plants together: A legume to provide nitrogen; a cereal for the fine roots; and one species of a brassica or another plant, such as phacelia, sunflower or buckwheat.