covers in residue

Making Cover Crops Work in a Cooler No-Till Climate

Iowa no-tiller Roger Harrington has seen his share of challenges with covers, but has found a combination that saves soil, adds nitrogen and reduces erosion and weed pressure.


Above Photo: COMING UP. Cereal rye, turnips and rape emerge last year in soybean stubble and corn stalks from no-tiller Roger Harrington’s previous no-tilled crops. This three-way mix, which is typically aerially seeded, has performed well on Harrington’s 1,300-acre farm near Ollie, Iowa.


Like many no-tillers, Roger Harrington likes seeding cover crops to improve organic matter, fix nitrogen (N) in the soil and reduce erosion, weed pressure and compaction.

But he’s got some challenges farming in southeastern Iowa, near Ollie, getting covers seeded in a timely manner and dealing with winter hardiness in some species. He’s had trouble, too, finding legumes to add N for his corn crop.

Harrington says he’s not afraid to take home ideas that he picked up at conferences and try them on his farm.

“I want to share that not everything I took home worked. There’s a process needed to find things that do work,” he says.

Starting Out

A no-tiller since 1980, Harrington grows mostly a split of corn and soybeans on 1,300 acres, along with up to 80 acres of no-tilled alfalfa, 3 acres of pumpkins and 5 acres of sweet corn. He also has 40 head of Boer goats that feed on a small pasture with a 2½-acre lake.

Harrington signed up for the Conservation Security Program several years ago and agreed to seed cover crops. He’s been working covers into his rotation for 6 years, with a desire to increase organic matter and soil biological activity and reduce erosion.

He’d also…

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John-dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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