Strip-tillers throughout the U.S. and Canada continue to try different combinations of cover crops, creating a "bio strip-till" system where the roots of annual ryegrass, clover, radish and other crops complement mechanical tillage.
Illinois strip-tiller Todd Mooberry had a mix of annual ryegrass and crimson clover flown onto 600 acres of standing corn, which he later strip-tilled. (Todd Mooberry video)
After several years of using crimson clover in a bio strip-till system, Merlin, Ont., strip-tiller Blake Vince also tried Austrian winter peas for the first time this fall, seeding them into the seed zone with his eight-row ETS Soil Warrior strip-till rig.
"I am curious how they will respond with the 2012 corn crop," says Vince, who grows corn, soybeans and winter wheat.
Vince says he's also a strong believer in using red clover, which he frost-seeds into dormant winter wheat in March or April once the snow disappears and the fields are fit. He seeds 8 to 10 pounds per acre of the clover with a spinner-spreader mounted on an ATV.
The freeze-thaw cycles of cold spring mornings help work the small clover seed into the soil. The clover grows up in the field after the wheat is harvested in July. In mid-August, Vince chops the clover with a Bush Hog mower to reduce weed competition and stimulate additional root growth.
In October, he applies dicamba and glyphosate to kill the clover.
"The biggest advantage I see with clover is the number of seeds per pound and the number of pounds of seed applied per acre," Vince says. "The daikon radish may have a larger root diameter than the clover, but I believe the clover has a greater root mass per acre. The other advantage is the clover has the ability to produce and to fix nitrogen."
Cover Crop Caveats
Vince says that farmers in southwest Ontario describe daikon radishes as a "leaky" cover crop.
"The radish have performed well over tile drains, but have not performed as well between tiles," he says. "The area between the tile lines needs root penetration the most. The leaky radishes are known to recycle nutrients, but are unable to maintain those levels for subsequent crop production.
"An example would be taking tissue samples in the fall that show high fertility levels, but follow-p samples next spring show that the same nutrient levels have dropped dramatically. Where did they go?"
In the upper Midwest, cover crops continue to grow in popularity and generate many questions, says Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Extension strip-till specialist. Cover crops are increasingly being grown, especially in the Dakotas, says DeJong-Hughes says.
"The big question for farmers who only grow corn and soybeans is whether they have time to seed and get cover crops established after they harvest their crops," she says. "Unless they're growing wheat or edible beans, or chopping corn for silage, farmers are facing a huge issue of timing and priorities."
"The big question for farmers in the Dakotas who only grow corn and soybeans is whether they have time to seed and get cover crops established after they harvest their crops."
— Jodi DeJong-Hughes
Growers also want to know if cover crops will work in a corn and bean rotation, which species will work best for their soil types and rotations, and what happens in a dry fall, DeJong-Hughes says.
There's a great deal of interest by beef cattle farmers in the Dakotas in seeding forage radishes and turnips and grazing them, DeJong-Hughes adds.
"They use cover crops to break up compaction and improve soil health and supply nitrogen as a green manure," she says. "And cover crops can provide a forage option for beef cattle, too."
Trying Something New
This fall, Lowpoint, Ill., strip-tiller Todd Mooberry tried cover crops for the first time.
Annual ryegrass and crimson clover flourished after veteran strip-tiller Todd Mooberry of Lowpoint, Ill., had a blend of the cover crop seed flown onto 600 acres of standing corn this fall. Mooberry strip-tilled this field of continuous corn in early November. (Todd Mooberry photo)
"I had 25 pounds per acre of a blend of 60% annual ryegrass and 40% crimson clover flown onto 600 acres of standing corn on Sept. 25," Mooberry says. "We harvested the corn on Sept. 26 and hit it lightly with a Great Plains Turbo-Till that same day."
The annual ryegrass and crimson clover grew 3 to 4 inches tall, Mooberry says. As of Dec. 7, the stand looked great, he says, because there hadn't been any snow and temperatures had been moderate.
Mooberry shot video on Nov. 10 when he strip-tilled into corn stalks and the stand of cover crops.
"While it looks like the stand of cover crops was getting covered up by the strip-till bar, they actually grew right through the residue," he says.