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While cover crops are often an afterthought in a no-till operation, Steve Groff considers them a vital part of his crop rotation. In fact, he uses cover crops on 90 percent of his farmland.
The Holtwood, Pa., no-tiller not only raises corn and soybeans, but grows a large variety of no-tilled vegetables, such as tomatoes, pumpkins, broccoli and sweet corn.
Groff began no-tilling to halt soil erosion on his farm with slopes ranging from 3 to 12 percent. Initially, no-till stopped the erosion and several years later, he began to see improved soil tilth from continuous no-till.
“But when I started using cover crops 5 or 6 years ago, I really saw an increase in benefits,” he says.
For Groff, cover crops are so important he considers them the beginning of his growing season.
“They are selected on what the following crop will be that we are planting into the cover crop,” he says. “Here it becomes a management issue on how to properly assign cover crops that will do the best for the crop you are planning to no-till into that cover crop.
For no-till soybeans, Groff prefers rye as a cover crop. However, he doesn’t use rye before corn since both are grasses. That may lead to allelopathic effects against the corn and could encourage cutworm infestations. Instead, he uses hairy vetch prior to planting corn.
For transplanted vegetables, the no-tiller uses a mix of crimson clover, hairy vetch and rye since it provides…