Talking with farmers and equipment manufacturers, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty about how to best marry cover crops and strip-till.
Visiting with Adam Souder, territory manager with Orthman Mfg. this past summer, he noted that cover cropping in strip-till is a “hot-button” issue. Farmers want to know where to start, which types of cover crops are most effective and how they should be applied — in the strip or aerially applied — Souder says.
Some have a mounted stand-alone seeder on their strip-till unit and blow on the cover seed as they’re strip-tilling, he says. Other farmers have bought worn-out fertilizer buggies and blow it onto the ground, or use broadcast seeds with a spreader, let it emerge, and then strip-till into it.
“We know this is good, but determining the best system in terms of type of cover, planting methods and seeding dates is still a work in progress,” Souder says.
Through on-farm experimentation, researchers at Michigan State University have found that incorporating legume cover crops into strip-tilled corn systems could result in reduced nitrogen-application rates, without lowering yield, compared to no-till and conventional till systems.
Cresco, Iowa, farmer Frank Moore is among those strip-tillers testing the benefits of cover crops and, this past year, planted annual ryegrass and radishes on about 100 acres of prevent-plant corn ground. This year, he plans to seed cover crops aerially into soybeans.
“My primary consideration with cover crops is erosion control, but I will also be looking at the other intangible benefits such as soil quality and nutrient sequestration,” Moore says.
He will primarily use annual ryegrass and also be searching for a variety that provides good fall growth and root mass, but that would winterkill under normal conditions.
“The recommendation is to kill the cover crop 10 to 14 days ahead of planting, but around here, often the first thing we are able to do in the spring is plant corn,” Moore says. “We may not have that window to get the cover crop killed first.”
Moore will share more of his initial findings with cover crops in strip-till at the first ever National Strip-Tillage Conference, July 30-31 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Until then, share with us your successes or challenges with cover crops in your strip-till operation. Call me at (262) 782-4480, ext. 441, or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.