Early Maturities, Cover Crops Can Help Tough No-Till Soils Flourish

Research on two southern Illinois farms shows the potential of using early maturity crops to establish covers sooner and boost yields in poorly drained, drought-prone, underperforming fields.

Pictured Above: PLANTING GREEN. Planting into cover crops in southern Illinois near Farina, Randy McElroy conducts research on crop production for three tillage types, no-till, minimal tillage and conventional tillage. Six-year averages place no-till in the lead from an overall yield perspective

Randy McElroy sees the tough soils sometimes from behind sunglasses, because when the ground dries out completely it can be a white as a sand beach in Florida. 

These are the types of soils that McElroy, a technology development representative with Monsanto, has to contend with while conducting his cover crop research in southern Illinois. 

Knowing these tougher soils are what cause no-tillers to lose the most sleep, McElroy shares some tips on using cover crops and other practices to improve those areas and increase crop yields. 

Defining Tougher Acres

McElroy’s research has focused on two farm sites — one located near Farina, Ill., and the Henry White Research Farm outside of Millstadt. The Farina farm involves 35 acres of plots, while the Henry White Farm offers 20 acres of land devoted to a variety of projects. 

The Farina site features a Cisne/Hoyleton silt loam soil, while the Henry White Farm is predominantly Herrick silt loam. What they have in common is they’re poorly drained or surface-drained soils, McElroy notes. 

McElroy characterizes his soils as tough for many reasons, such as containing less than 2% organic matter, having excessive surface drainage, inadequate internal drainage and lower cation exchange capacities (CECs). 

The fields may have some varying slopes or…

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Mark mcneely1

Mark McNeely

Mark McNeely is the former managing editor of No-Till Farmer and Conservation Tillage Guide magazines. His previous experience includes 25 years in industrial engine journalism and marketing. Mark holds an M.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin.

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