Seeding and termination keys to cover crop success

Sarah Carlson

A researcher says advancements in seeding and termination have led to better results for farmers using cover crops.

Sarah Carlson with Practical Farmers of Iowa tells Brownfield most producers she works with start experimenting with cover crops by having it flown on.

“After they’ve had a few falls of no moisture, then they move to drilling cover crops to get better establishment.  So planes are still going to be used, but drills are gaining more popularity.”

She says drilling has proven to be more effective for getting cover crops established in the fall.

For planting corn or soybeans into a cover the following spring, Carlson recommends a calculated approach.

“I don’t know necessarily if it’s changes to sweeps, row cleaners or down pressure as much as it is planting 50 feet and getting off the tractor to double-check that the slots close.”

Carlson says slot closure is essential to a healthy seed bed, especially for corn.

The methodology of cover crop termination has also evolved from strictly spraying the crop with herbicide early in the spring, to planting corn and soybeans into a green living cover and then terminating it after planting.

“But now they have to think about their nitrogen program because now there’s going to be decomposing rye sucking up nitrogen while there are all these corn seedlings trying to grow and use nitrogen.  So the farmer probably needs 50 pounds (at planting) or a pop-up or starter.  Then the farmer will want to test for side-dress to see if another 50 pounds is necessary.”

She says this wouldn’t increase the amount of fertilizer used, just change the timing of applications.

Carlson acknowledges that yield losses are possible in the first year or two of some cover crop programs, but better management at planting and termination has proven very effective in maximizing returns.

Carlson will be speaking at the Land and Stewardship Project soil health workshop Thursday near Lewiston in southeastern Minnesota.









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