Every pass you make through the field is important and seeding cover crops should be treated with care. Whether it’s a small grain or a 12-way mix, getting good emergence of every seed should be the goal.
|Winter wheat, “the original” cover crop, has greatly benefited from more accuracy in seeding method. The same 4 Exapta principles of seeding apply when seeding cover crops. To realize all the benefits from having a green crop growing year around, it’s just as important to get the best stand possible. Evaluate your goals for planting a cover crop. Cover crops do an excellent job with weed control and every year it’s where the cover crop is thin and didn’t emerge well that weed control is compromised. You want a strong, vigorous crop that will over-winter and it starts at seeding time.|
There are different designs of openers used for seeding. Double-disc drills are very popular but if you look closer at what they offer, each one has a key piece missing that is not ideal. Look for red flags like a no-till coulter, lack of gauge wheel or sliding scraper to prevent soil blowout, lack of firming device, or a closing wheel that doubles as the depth wheel. Planters and single disc drills are still the most accurate tools for seeding cash crops and the same goes for cover crops. If you only have a planter, don’t hesitate to use it. Planters will do an excellent job seeding cover crops and wider row spacing allows room to seed the next crop between the rows.
Aerial seeding and broadcasting covers on the surface, while quick and low cost, do not have nearly as consistent success with germination as good seed-to soil-contact. In corn, a move to inter-seeding covers at around V4 stage, to get them established earlier before the corn gets too tall, allows the use of drill or planter units to improve emergence. As you get north of I-80, it gets harder to get much growth from covers after harvest, which makes inter-seeding essential to get cover crops to work. The future points towards more improvements in relay cropping and moving away from growing one crop each year.
While making that pass across the field, don’t hesitate to include some fertility. Correcting deficiencies improves the cover crop and its ability to reach the goals with which you are seeding the crop in the first place. Accelerate your soil health by creating super-healthy plants. Go further than micronutrients as well. Instead of trying to balance your fertilizer, use nature. The object of soil health improvement is to let growing plants (year-round) bring nutrients that move down through the soil back toward the surface where the biology is, to make them available for plant uptake. Let the microbes and plants communicate and balance the plants needs.
There have been quite a few farms trying organic production because of the nice premium for the grain. When you eliminate the tools or “cides” available to rescue crops and keep them healthy, cover crops become a necessity and have just as much value as a cash crop. A failed cover crop means failed weed control, nitrogen fixation, and starving biology. Until we get more cash crops to grow, especially winter versions, cover crops and their value should not just be some seed that is considered a halfway crop.