Incorporating cover crops is a growing trend among strip-tillers as a way to retain nutrients in the soil, limit erosion and promote growth of organic matter content. According to our 2015 Strip-Till Operational Benchmark Study, about 48% of respondents plant cover crops in strip-tilled fields, up more than 4% from the year prior.
The increasing use is also providing the opportunity for some unique experimentation. Clare, Ill., strip-tillers Dan and Trent Sanderson have utilized cover crops for several years on their 2,000-acre operation, and recently started their own cover-crop dealership.
They’ve found that interseeding cereal rye with a homemade machine during sidedress accommodates their narrow germination window. But they’ve also made some interesting conclusions after strip-tilling corn into wheat, essentially using it as a cover crop the last 2 years.
Harsh winters severely limited the yield potential for the Sanderson’s wheat crop in some fields. Rather than abandon those areas, Trent decided to try spring strip-tilling corn into the standing wheat.
Using their 8-row Dawn Pluribus rig, he strip-tilled into the boot-high crop and planted into the strips the following day. Following the same fertility program (aside from 70 units of nitrogen (N) originally applied to the wheat crop), as they did for their strip-tilled corn into soybean stubble, the Sandersons saw some interesting results at harvest.
“We ended up with about a 17-bushel-per-acre bump in corn yields in fields where we strip-tilled into the failed wheat crop, compared to other strip-tilled fields across the road,” Trent says. “It was the same results both years we’ve done it, so it’s been an eye-opening experiment.”
While he’d still prefer to harvest a high-yielding wheat crop, Trent says it’s nice to have a profitable alternative, and another way to incorporate cover crops into their strip-till system.
What cover crop experiments have you tried in your strip-till system? Share you story and contact me at (262) 777-2441, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.