Seeding cover crops isn’t an exact science, which is one reason why farmers are often willing to experiment with different methods. A new addition to our 4th annual Strip-Till Operational Benchmark Study (participate in the 2017 survey here) asks farmers what they use to seed cover crops.
Early results reveal a preference for drilling them in, with use of a spreader and aerial seeding not far behind. (See in-depth results and analysis of the benchmark study in the upcoming August issue of No-Till Farmer’s Conservation Tillage Guide).
A smaller percentage are interseeding covers, but Clare, Ill., strip-tiller Trent Sanderson sees this approach particularly economical and efficient. Sanderson and his father, Dan, began strip-tilling 10 years ago and in 2012 began experimenting with cover crops.
“It’s all about practicality and affordability,” Sanderson says of their cover cropping objectives. “In north central Illinois, we don’t have a lot of opportunity for fall seeding cover crops. Aerial application is about our only option, but that can be expensive and there’s not a lot of growing time after our crop comes off.”
Seeking an alternative option for getting cover crops established prior to harvest, the Sandersons started out using a 3-point broadcast seeder to apply about 20 pounds per acre of an annual ryegrass and crimson clover.
The setup worked well, but the Sandersons wanted a machine that could seed beneath the tops of corn plants, at about the V6 stage, for a more consistent stand. So they stripped down a old row cultivator and worked with a company to refurbish a 16-outlet Gandy air seeder box.
“We got it for about half the cost of a new one and worked with a local fertilizer supply dealer to purchase some hoses for the unit,” Sanderson says. “The Gandy also came with deflector plates on the bottom, so as the seed comes through it hits those and spreads out into an even pattern.”
While it’s an economical and effective system, Sanderson acknowledges the drawbacks compared to a highboy seeder. They are limited on crop height and pull the Gandy with a John Deere 8300 tractor, which only has 19 inches of clearance.
Still, Sanderson says interseeding adds flexibility to their cover cropping program. They still aerial seed and drill some cover crops, depending on the crop rotation and timing, but having another option spreads out the risk, says Sanderson.
“Overall, we’ve seen about 90% success rate with the interseeding option,” he says.
Hear Trent Sanderson share more about their cover cropping strategies and results in the latest Strip-Till Farmer podcast, “Creating a Cost-Effective Game Plan for Cover Crops in Strip-Till.”
What is your most effective method for seeding cover crops in your strip-till operation? Share your story with me at (262) 777-2441, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.