Cover crops have been around for many years. At Farmers Coop Society, we are starting to see more and more of our farmers plant cover crops. Cover crops can have a variety of benefits. The primary benefits of cover crops are controlling erosion, nutrient cycling, and keeping soil healthy by maintaining structure, adding organic matter, and providing a host for microbes that are beneficial to the next crop. Other benefits that can be gained are weed suppression, disease management, and water and moisture management. Some cover crops can provide nitrogen for next year’s corn crop.
Roger Feekes, who has been farming his entire life in northwest Iowa, did his first ever no till/cover crops field. Roger typically manages his fields in a “traditional” way of tilling before he plants each spring. But this year, Roger was interested in cover crops for a variety of reasons. Last year, the field produced corn that was chopped for silage and he wanted to protect the soil over the winter. This field tends to be wet and he wanted to prevent gullies in the spring and reduce overall compaction in the field. Roger thought he could also get better weed control for his soybeans next year by using no till/cover crops. After consulting with his FCS Agronomist, Josh Plueger, Roger decided to try no till and would use a blend of winter rye and radishes for cover crop.
Farmers Coop Society drilled the cover crops in for him in late fall and terminated them two weeks before he panted his soybeans, when the rye was about 8-inches tall. Initially, Roger was concerned that the rye wouldn’t get enough growth since it had been planted so late. However, the radishes and the winter rye grew to around 2-inches tall before frost killed them, and this was tall enough to stop winter wind erosion. Roger said, “You could noticeably see the snow drifts were whiter than those in other fields I farm right next to this piece.”
Roger planted his soybeans with his Kinze® 2200. This is his normal planter, and he didn’t make any adjustments to it before he planted the soybeans. Roger’s planter has trash whippers on it and those were the best thing for planting into cover crop. While planting, he worried the ground might be too hard, but after checking the depth of the seed three times he thought it was planting just as well as his other fields.
In July, Roger was able to see noticeable differences between this field and his other field right next door. The soybeans in the no till/cover crop field were a full foot taller, had better color, and looked a lot healthier than the other field’s soybeans. They were also in full canopy while the other field had about 8 inches before full canopy. Roger stated, “I love driving by this field. The results are great and the beans are looking beautiful.”
FCS was able to leave a “test strip” in this field so you could see the difference between cover crop and no cover crop in the same field. In Roger’s test strip of no cover crop, you were able to see the washout from the heavy rains. You could also visibly see how much dirt had silted over the beans when it got to the bottom of the slope. And even though there isn’t much of a slope, you could see the small gullies from the heavy rain.
In late July, Josh wanted to do a couple of tests on water infiltration rates between a tilled field and a no till/cover crop field. He was looking at water uptake and found some amazing results on two side-by-side fields.
What Josh found was that there was better and faster water uptake in his no till/cover crop field compared to his tilled field next door. This means the no till/cover crop field handled more rainfall in a shorter amount of time and stored that water better than the other field. He was also able to conclude that any compaction that happens is less likely to impede water in the no till/cover crop field and allows easier root growth than traditional management systems.
Roger has been very happy with the results of no till and cover crop on this field and said, “I haven't seen any downside to managing my fields this way. I’ll plant more cover crop next year.”
If you are curious if no till/cover crop could benefit your fields like it did Roger’s, call your FCS Agronomist and talk about what options would work for you and your operation.
Written by: Josh Plueger