For this No-Till Roundtable, we asked our readers to tell us how they resolved their most difficult challenges to getting cover crops established. This is what they said.
A: We’ve used cover crops for many years now. We have a three-tiered goal with using cover crops: Regenerate and build soil health, cut winter feed costs for our cow herd and propagate wildlife.
When we went to full-season cover crops to reach these goals. Our soil health is improving, we have had 7,400 plus ng/g of total biology after winter grazing of our 20-plus species diverse cover-crop mix. We plant these in early June and leave them until late fall or winter for grazing. We leave half to feed the soil. The wildlife get to utilize them for cover and a food source as well.
In most cases, we’re still using a burndown chemical application before planting. However, sometimes when we plant covers back-to-back the litter is suppressing weed pressure and we can get by without a chemical. With the covers we have also saved over $200 per head per year in feed costs for our cow herd.
— Jerry Doan, McKenzie, N.D.
A: We have an airplane fly on oats, radish and buckwheat on soybean acres around September 1, prior to harvest and before leaf drop. This has worked great for the last 5 years.
Cereal rye has been blended with dry fertilizer and ground-applied on corn stalks after harvest. If corn harvest goes into November, the cereal rye does not germinate until spring. Therefore, we have decided to fly on the cereal rye prior to harvest this fall, hoping for fall germination and a green cover crop over the winter.
— Gary Place, Homer, Ill.
A: The biggest challenge is figuring out an herbicide program that gives season-long control and no carryover that could hurt cover crops. The best luck I’ve have had is drilling the same day as soybean harvest. It takes some planning, but success chances go up a lot.
— Ed McNamara, Goodhue, Minn.
A: Our most difficult challenge is having time to get them planted during harvest season by Labor Day. Sometimes harvest is delayed. We are raising field peas and oats, which helps with earlier harvesting.
— Paul Overby, Wolford, N.D.
A: I’ve tried broadcasting after harvest and aerial applications before harvest with mixed results. Now I no-till drill all of my covers as soon as possible after harvest and have had excellent results without a single failure.
— David Wessel, Chandlerville, Ill.
A: Our issue is getting seeds in the ground in time for good establishment. We’re trying to plant earlier and eliminate pre-plant herbicides that require delayed planting. We have no post-wheat issues other than seed cost and I’m modifying our cover-crop mix to improve the seed cost.
— Robert Ormiston, Nashville, Ind.
A: The challenge is our short cover crop growing season between harvest and frost here in northeast Nebraska. Most of our cover crop efforts follow soybeans and consist of cereal rye. We’ve found that drilling seed vs. broadcasting works the best.
— Robert Ramsel, Orchard, Neb.
A: The most difficult challenge in getting cover crops established is getting a consistent stand when seeding into standing crops. I’ve used a high-clearance sprayer to apply cover crop seed on some acres and the rest are aerially applied.
I request that the aerial applicators focus on getting an even spread, so they do try to fly it on when the wind is calmer. Another option we’ve tried is broadcasting the cover crop seed with fertilizer after harvest, which produced excellent results.
— Doug Adams, Humboldt, Iowa
A: The only problem with getting covers planted was to get our other crops harvested earlier. Using earlier-maturity corn has helped. We use a 30-foot Great Plains no-till drill that works great for seeding.
— Tony Peirick, Watertown, Wis.
A: Two things have helped me in establishing cover crop in a timely manner: One, I started using shorter-season corn and soybean hybrids so I can harvest earlier in the fall. I’ve also attempted to interseed in June to help in earlier cover establishment.
— Jim Hershey, Elizabethtown, Penn.
A: Our most difficult challenge is timing. Cereal rye planted a day later in fall 2017 looked drastically different than rye planted the day before.
We’re trying to resolve this by getting our cover crops in the ground right behind the combine. Early fall planting is a huge driver behind a good cover stand.
— Treg & Courtney Ulmer, Glenford, Ohio
A: The biggest issue we have is getting them planted in a timely manner. We’ve tried flying them on, but have had high percentage of failures. We’re moving to shorter season corn and soybeans to be timelier with cover crop drilling.
We use cereal rye as our primary cover crop in our mix, as it will always germinate and produce some cover.
— Alan Smock, Taylorsville, Ind.
A: My biggest problem was getting a good stand before the first hard freeze. I solved this by drilling the cover as I am cutting the soybeans. The truck driver often has time to do both. If it’s dry or turns very dry I will run the pivots around to give my covers ½ inch of water.
— Bill Nielsen, Minden, Neb.
A: The problem is getting covers established after harvest. This is especially true after corn harvest. Interseeding annual cereal rye into corn at the V4 stage has helped with this problem.
— John Ledermann, Brandon, Minn.
A: My toughest challenge putting down cereal rye in the fall after beans is having the time to get it planted while still harvesting. I use part time labor. The trade-off is to have my local co-op broadcast it right behind the combine even though the germination of the seed is decreased vs. drilling it in.
— Kirk Swigert, Shelby County, Kentucky
A: We’ve seen very inconsistent results from aerial seeding anything into corn. I’ve tried turnips and radishes with poor results aerially.
I’m excited about using cereal rye as a cover crop. Rye, in my opinion, is the only reliable cover crop following a corn or bean harvest. Planting into rye in the spring works great. This year I strip-tilled the rye into soybean ground going into corn. It worked great and the soil structure was ideal.
— Ron Schaeffer, Menno, S.D.
A: The biggest problem with getting cover crops established is related to weather — specifically cold, dry weather in the fall. A combination of wet springs and later maturing crops will assure that it is at least cold.
As a result of this problem, I have moved away from broadcasting cereal rye and toward incorporation with a vertical-tillage tool mounted with an air seeder. I’ve also flown on cover crops earlier.
— Clark Porter, Waterloo, Iowa
A: I’m just starting out, so I’ve tried interseeding radishes into winter wheat but didn’t have enough moisture. Another interseeding of berseem clover in spring wheat worked fine under the pivot.
Then another no-till cover crop attempt between dryland shelter belts failed 100% due to zero rainfall for 90 days from the time of seeding. Timing and water have been the big challenges so far.
— Judy Cornell, Choteau, Mont.
A: My most difficult challenge has been over-the-top seeding and being totally dependent on the weather for proper germination. In our area, drilling after crop harvest does not give adequate time for the covers to grow enough to give proper benefits, so we utilize mostly aerial and high-boy interseeding.
I would like to interseed early, at V4-V6 utilizing a drill, but at this point the cost of buying equipment is a deterrent. I want to keep the cover crop seed cost down. Expensive equipment prevents me from seeding covers mixed with soil.
— Mark Montel, Claypool, Ind.
A: The hardest thing for us has been our rainfall variability, with only 12 inches a year. Getting weeds sprayed out before seeding is always a challenge. We seed cover crops here last week of May, as it takes that long for our soils to be warm enough for germination.
— Larry & Rod Johnson, Kremlin, Mont.
A: By far our biggest challenge is planting date. It’s amazing how much more development we get on September-planted covers vs. October — especially in falls like 2017 where there was very little heat and sun.
We’ve always planted some earlier-season crops but we still cannot get away from fuller-season products. Our strongest and most reliable hybrids and varieties are fuller-season. We’re strongly considering a few acres of what we believe to be extremely early products in 2019 to compare the economics of them with our more normal maturities.
The second challenge is labor to plant covers. We’ve found the only way to succeed is through direct seeding of covers. We’ve tried aerial application on a couple occasions with nearly zero success and high costs.
Drilling is our only successful planting method. I’m interested in intercropping but labor is a challenge in June because we’re sidedressing, spraying and have a lot of hay we still bale in small squares. Those tasks alone take at least four people to achieve in adequate time.
— Daniel Call, Washington Court House, Ohio
A: We have been using cover crops for many years and the biggest problem is figuring out how to avoid herbicide carryover problems in the fall. Looking at the Penn State University publication “Herbicides Persistence and Rotation to Cover Crops” has been very helpful.
— Stan Moore, North Manchester, Ind.
A: My problem with cover crops is too many residual chemicals that prevent them from growing. I am now trying a ¾ the rate of residual chemicals.
— Herbert Reuter, Milford, Ind.
A: Our biggest challenge with cover crops is getting them planted early enough to germinate and grow before cold weather arrives — usually late November for us in north Alabama.
Ideally our cover crops would be planted in late September, but we’re not finished with harvesting our corn, cotton and soybeans then.
In many years, we have just been lucky. We broadcast our mix, which is typically cereal rye and crimson clover, in late October or early November. Having warm temperatures through mid-December helps get cover crops established and grow well in early spring.
Last year was a disaster. We had a five-species mix that we weren’t able to plant until mid-November and it didn’t grow enough to survive our unusually cold winter: a lot of investment with no payback.
Our only good solution is to fly on our cover crop into standing crops before harvest in September, then come back and spread additional seeds if we don’t get great coverage.
— Beth Pride Ford, Courtland, Ala.
A: Cover crops are not difficult to establish, but the timing and labor are tough to figure out. In northwest Illinois the only real choice due to weather is to drill cereal rye after the soybeans are harvested. You have to follow the combine to make sure you get the seed in the ground in time.
Drilling the rye also makes sure you have adequate seed-to-soil contact. Don’t be afraid to put the seed 1- to 1-1/2 inches in the ground because soil moisture can be scarce that time of the year. I’ve drilled cereal rye into corn stalks on a limited basis because weather and timing are even more limited. It doesn’t grow in the fall, but it will grow in the spring.
— Norm Deets, Milledgeville, Ill.
A: My biggest issues are wrapping my head around the herbicide restrictions and timing of cover crop application. I do not have a drill to seed the cover crops so I have been using plane/helicopter in the past.
I’m seriously considering putting a Gandy/Valmar box on my sidedress applicator for interseeding, but then this brings up an even more crucial residual herbicide potential.
The seed and equipment is not cheap so a guy wants to get it right the first time. I know that regenerative/green farming is the way to go, but making that transition is difficult.
— Chad & Dawn Christianson, Hooper, Neb.