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VETCH FIT. Veering away from slug-prone cereal rye, Blaine Hitchens has found hairy vetch to be an excellent cover crop for his Laurel, Del., operation. It’s seeded in a 5-way mix between full-season soybeans and corn. Only hairy vetch and balansa clover survive the winter. The nitrogen that the legumes fix and quickly release from their leaves means Hitchens doesn’t need to apply any nitrogen with his planter. Photo: Blaine Hitchins

Precision Planter Tech, Cover Crops Set Stage for Perfect No-Till Corn Stand

After major soil health improvements from a tailored cover crop mix & natural inputs, a new planter is this no-tiller’s final step in mastering crop production

I’ve been putting together a crop production puzzle for the last 20 years. Each piece has been carefully whittled into the perfect shape to fit my specific circumstances in Laurel, Del. If I’m correct, the new planter that was delivered late this summer will allow me to precisely place seed and will be the final piece in the big picture. 

No-till was the first piece of the puzzle. My grandfather got us started by no-tilling soybeans behind wheat in the 1980s. My father took the next step to no-till corn behind soybeans. Today the farm is 100% no-till growing corn, soybeans, wheat, lima beans, green peas and edamame beans. 

No-till makes everything so much simpler when done correctly. It cuts down on work, and there’s no erosion. However, in my mind, doing it correctly means looking beyond simply not tilling. No-till was just the first piece of the production puzzle. I’ve since added and refined management of cover crops, soil health, nutrient cycling, nitrogen (N) sources and inputs — both biological themselves and those that support soil biology. 

Check The Specs...

NAME: Blaine Hitchens

LOCATION: Laurel, Del.

ACRES: 1,000

YEARS NO-TILLING: 25

CROPS: Corn, soybeans, wheat, lima beans, green peas, edamame beans

PRIMARY SOIL TYPE: Sandy loam

ANNUAL PRECIPITATION: 44-46 inches

IRRIGATION: 90% of acres center pivot irrigation

LIVESTOCK: 100,000 broiler operation

The next piece is achieving a perfect uniform stand, which is why I purchased a new planter this year. Once I’m able to do that, I think I’ll…

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Martha mintz new

Martha Mintz

Since 2011, Martha has authored the highly popular “What I’ve Learned About No-Till” series that has appeared in every issue of No-Till Farmer since August of 2002.


Growing up on a cattle ranch in southeastern Montana, Martha is a talented ag writer and photographer who lives with her family in Billings, Montana.

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