It seems like you can’t pick up a farm magazine anymore without seeing something about cover crops. It’s definitely a wave coming your way if it hasn’t reached you already. For me, it’s been fascinating to watch and learn about this new way of farming. The ironic thing is that it really isn’t “new” and dates back to the beginning of time. The way I see it, ground was never intended to lay barren except for maybe in the deserts, so who are we to think we must know better? As I look ahead and try to leave this world in a better place for the generations to come, I see this as both an obligation and an opportunity.
In order to grow good cover crops, we need to manage them with the same tenacity as we do our cash crops. Once again, I have found this requires good zones. Different soil types often require different strategies to achieve desired results. On our clay hills, we need to build organic matter and control erosion. This area screams for grass seed, and a lot of it! On our low ground, this area needs to scavenge nitrogen, and increase water infiltration. This is a prime spot for turnips and radishes. Mixing all these seeds together as is done in commercial blends does not accurately achieve my goals for each zone. Therefore I bring you our AirScout Edition cover crop seeder!
We simply remove the wet tank from the Hagie as soon as we are finished applying late-season nitrogen, and install a self-contained unit that has two separate dry boxes, a big blower, and some meters on the bottom. We then use the same bare soil imagery we used for our prescription planting maps to create our cover crop zones and prescriptions. Automatically, the machine then meters out the proper rate and species of cover crop seed we desire for each zone. (And the best part about it is that it’s controlled with a simple iPad that you probably already own.) Now if I could just get John Deere cranking these things out as standard equipment on every Hagie, I could make this even easier…
The other most important thing I have found regarding cover crops is that timing is everything. On our farm here in Northwest Indiana, we cannot wait until harvest to plant our cover crops because there is simply not enough warmth left in the season to get them established before winter sets in. This is why we built this contraption for the Hagie. About this time of year, the corn begins to senesce and light is once again reaching the ground. This is the perfect time to begin to plant cover crops. We use the same boom we used for the Y-drops, and even use the same poles. We just strip them down bare and run our dry hoses to the bottom where the seeds hit a deflector and scatter everywhere. By getting them down close to the ground, very little is caught in the whirls of the corn, and we get very even coverage. The seeds require no incorporation into the soil, and with the next light shower, they are off and running.
If any of you would like us to custom apply cover crops for you this year, please let us know. If you are interested in purchasing one of these seeders for your Hagie, we can arrange that as well. Thanks again for spending time with me, and I’ll be back in touch in a few weeks to talk about how we use the imagery to drive stalk nitrate testing.