Question: I am in northern Iowa — should I be looking at 100-day corn and shorter-season beans to get better cover crop establishment?

Yes. For me in West Union, Iowa, the latest we'll plan is 105 days, but we're doing a lot of 98-102 days. The plant structure comes into play at that point, and if you have the interseed mix in there, how aggressive that's growing. If you're interseeding, then you can let that crop go to full maturity. That goes back to all the years we played with 60-inch corn, that was the biggest thing we saw right off the start. You open up that canopy, and the cover is going to thrive in there.

I had this realization the other day while talking about trying to pick hybrids — I think that might be why some of my operation's flexible management style works. We've always been more a defensive than offensive operation. I love top yields like anybody, but I also know consistent yields are what pays well. If you focus on consistent yields, you're probably not going to be planting the racehorse hybrids. I think picking old workhorse hybrids is almost important as the maturity — pick good emerging varieties. One of the strong points of small, local seed companies is picking hybrids that are thriving in your area. The racehorse doesn't take off right away. Your maturity is going to be delayed anyway. Hybrid selection is critical, but I think it's different than what most people look at.

Editor's Note: Loran Steinlage addresses more cover crop questions in this Ask the Operator webinar.

“Ask the Operator” allows farmers like yourself to ask questions of our 2023 Conservation Ag Operator Fellow, Loran Steinlage. The West Union, Iowa, no-tiller makes an ongoing commitment to innovating on his own farm and going above and beyond to share his no-till knowledge with others. Read through past information in our content archive and submit your own questions for our Fellow to answer. Click here if you are having trouble viewing the question submission form.