Strip-tillers tend to be naturally inquisitive. So having the opportunity to assemble a diverse group for a candid dinner conversation provided plenty of productive back-and-forth on a range of topics.
At the table were Henry and Harold Kallal, strip-tillers from Jerseyville, Ill.; strip-tiller Ryan Shaw and his wife, Melissa, from Snover, Mich., along with their farm operator, Bruce Brock; Chris Armstrong, strip-tiller from North Bend, Neb., and his wife, Whitney, along with Chris’ father-in-law, Steve Arneal.
What follows are excerpts from the more than 2-hour conversation, highlighting some of the top takeaways and advice on cover cropping. Read extended highlights of the conversation at www.StripTillFarmer.com.
Bruce Brock: “We assembled an interseeder build out from an old cultivator. We added Dawn’s DuoSeed units and a Salford poly tank and this is the first year we tried it, interseeding some corn acres.”
Harold Kallal: “We used an airplane the first year on about 100 acres of cover crops and it worked great. The next year, we did 400 acres, but it stayed dry from August until about December and nothing grew. We had maybe one plant per acre. So we bought an air seeder to plant cover crops.
“Our plan is to plant cover crops as soon as we can after harvest. Then we’re also going to plant covers into our soybean stubble, then apply anhydrous on the cover crops and see how that works.”
Bruce Brock: “What type of a mix are you doing? Is it a mix or straight cereal rye?”
Harold Kallal: “Right now, we’re just using cereal rye and root tillage radish. Depending on the year, the tillage radish can get a big root and then it will have a small root maybe go down another foot. It’s got at least a 2, maybe 3-foot penetration. The cereal rye looks like it goes down about 15 or 18 inches.
“The frost kills the radishes, which for us, usually comes the first of December. Then cereal rye, I usually like to kill that in March.”
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Ryan Shaw: “We built our interseeder to seed our covers in the fall in-between our strips where we were going to have our seedbed for the following spring. We were more comfortable trying to seed all 1,500 acres with a cover crop and using the interseeder halved our seed cost.
When we went and no-tilled cereal rye into our soybean stubble and then put our fall strips in with RTK, we were ripping two perfect rows out of the rye. We figured we were wasting half of our seed and if we could seed that rye right where it should be, we’re saving half our seed rate from the get-go. In the spring, we can just let that keep growing and we can freshen our strips and make a seedbed and not have to worry about ever hairpinning any of that to dry out or wick out the seed slot.”
Chris Armstrong: “We did cover crops, mainly radishes, turnips and cereal rye, for the first time in 2017. About Labor Day, we hired a high-boy to seed into our corn on three different fields. Then we had a plane apply covers to a couple of our soybean fields. It froze so soon that the radishes and turnips were so small. The rye we flew on was also disappointing, even though it germinated it right away. It was just real uneven in the soybeans.
“What we’ll try next is we have a twin-row planter that we plant soybeans with. We’re going to buy some cover crop discs and seed plates, and plant a few fields, then come in and strip-till on the side, in-between those rows.”
Bruce Brock: “We get our cover crop seed from growers who grow it around us, but they do clean it for us. It’s worked out real well. We’ve gotten to know someone who can advise us on how much to seed by the half-pound instead of a pound or five pounds. When I interseeded the corn, it was a seven-way mix. The total poundage I seeded was 11-pounds per acre. That really was keeping the cost down, too.”
Ryan Shaw: “He makes sure we have a reason why we’re doing it. If we asked him for a mix, he’s more than happy to sell it to us. But he’ll ask, ‘What are you trying to accomplish?’ We picked out a mix where we wanted to use four pounds of buckwheat. He said, ‘You don’t want to do that. It will come up so fast, your canopy of your corn will shade it, but the buckwheat will shade all your clover.’ It’s those things that I never would have thought about. The average cover crop salesperson might just sell you what you asked for and then you might get burned because you wouldn’t know why it didn’t work the way you expected it to.”