After nearly a decade of using cover crops, Cameron Mills has the experience to say what works and what doesn’t for his 3,500-acre no-till farm.

At Beck’s Hybrids’ Becknology Days last month, the Walton, Ind., no-tiller gave attendees a look at his cover-crop program and offered advice for growers looking to add covers to their system. Here are three tips Mills shared:

1. Don’t worry about the color of your corn when aerial seeding cover crops.

Some may say the corn should be defoliated or brown to the ear, but Mills doesn’t worry about this when he aerial seeds his covers crops. He aerially seeds most of his covers because he has limited time after harvest — and waiting until the corn is a certain color may prevent covers from getting seeded, he says.

For example, one year his grain corn was still green and at 30% moisture on Nov. 1, and he didn’t finish harvest until Mid-December.

“Had we not aerially applied that year in standing corn, we wouldn’t have had any cover crops whatsoever,” he says. “They were shorter and not as lush, but we had covers seeded, they overwintered and we had a pretty good stand overall.” 

In his area, aerial seeding usually takes place the last week of August and first week of September. If it gets past Sept. 10 he won’t fly any more on because he knows he won’t see the value in it.

2. Consider rapeseed over radishes. 

Mills says radishes can be a very effective cover crop if seeded and used properly, but a problem he often sees is growers trying to seed them too late. He recommends using them behind corn silage, wheat and after early harvest.

An alternative brassica he prefers is rapeseed, which he likes to mix with annual ryegrass. Unlike radishes, the rapeseed will overwinter in his area, and he likes how its course root system complements the fine root system of annual ryegrass.

Rapeseed is also more economical than radishes, he says. One pound of radish seed is $2.50 and contains 28,000 seeds, while rapeseed is about a third of the cost and provides 160,000 seeds per pound.

3. Kill annual ryegrass when it’s actively growing.

Mills knows there’s a lot of horror stories about terminating annual ryegrass. Having worked with it for several years, he says the No. 1 mistake growers make is spraying it before it’s actively growing.

“Think about your yard,” he says. “It turns green in the spring and yet it doesn’t need to be mowed. That’s kind of like annual ryegrass. It’ll turn green and it doesn’t need to be sprayed.”

Instead, growers need to wait until a nice, sunny day after the cover has a couple inches of top growth on it.

“It’s hard to wait because you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s getting out of control,’” he says. “But you will have much better success letting that stuff actively grow, then going in and spraying it.”  

He recommends spraying between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. so the chemicals can translocate before it gets dark.

Mills provides more information on terminating annual ryegrass in a free webinar, “Properly Controlling An Annual Ryegrass Cover Crop … And More Helpful Tips,” available on our Web site.

Laura Allen,
Associate Editor
No-Till Farmer