Cover Crops and Interseeder Update

Posted: November 5, 2013

Latest information on cover crops and new technologies like the Penn State cover crop interseeder and applicator.
Successful cover crop interseeder plot in Potter County PA.  Photo by Nicole Santangelo

Successful cover crop interseeder plot in Potter County PA. Photo by Nicole Santangelo

Several of us had the opportunity to attend and participate in the Cover Crops Solutions (CCS) Cover Crop and Soil Health Field Day on Oct. 30, 2013 at Cedar Meadow Farms in Lancaster County, PA.  The enthusiasm about cover crops is quite amazing and hopefully adoption will follow all the excitement.  At the field day, we saw and heard about many different cover crop mixtures that CCS is offering with their racing theme (Daytona, Indy, Talladega, Bristol, etc.) as well as some promising new technology to help establish cover crops.  Lack of opportunity for timely cover crop establishment still seems to be the number one barrier to adoption by many farmers and particularly in the Midwest Corn belt. 

Some of the technology on display included RowBot Systems out of Minneapolis who demonstrated a robotic device from that could help not only seed cover crops, but also apply fertilizer and other inputs.  Steve Groff, owner and operator of Cedar Meadow Farms demonstrated a combine with a Gandy Orbit-Air seeder attachment that seeded cover crops, while harvesting corn.  Another exhibitor demonstrated a Valmar seeder mounted on a vertical tillage tool that could seed cover crops while running through corn stalks.  Finally, we were able to see Dawn Equipment Company‚Äôs new planter attachment developed by Perry County PA farmer Charlie Martin. The attachment rolls a cover crop and clears the row for better seed placement in high residue cover crop environments.   

We also had our Penn State cover crop inter-seeder on display at the field day beside a demonstration seeded back in June.  As mentioned in an earlier Field Crop News, we started a new project this summer funded by the USDA NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program in conjunction with Cornell University and the USDA-ARS in Beltsville, MD.   Our USDA CIG project is developing multi-year on-farm test sites across Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York where we are evaluating several cover crop species and mixtures using the interseeder.  At our Rock Springs research farm location in central PA, establishment was exceptional, likely due to the new interseeder design and good growing conditions in June.  Establishment at all of our New York locations is good as well.  We also gained more experience this year with pre-emergent corn herbicides and are developing some recommendations for achieving early season weed control with minimal impact on the cover crops.  We encountered several issues in 2013 studies.  We found that too much soil coverage or seeding in soils that are too wet can impact establishment.  At some Maryland locations, shading from tall and dense corn was too severe for the cover crop seedlings to survive.    At one of our Lancaster locations, night crawlers and slugs devoured some well-established cover crops by early August.  At many sites, the cover crops tolerated the shade well and we have nice stands at harvest.  As we continue to gain more experience with the interseeder, we think it has real potential to expand cover cropping into more northern regions.  Our goal is to consistently establish cover crops, while potentially spraying and sidedressing fields, using modest seeding rates of species that will supply N, improve soil quality or provide late season grazing for the crop producer. 

If you are interested in learning more about the Interseeder, there are some opportunities yet this fall to attend a field day that will either feature or include some of this research.  On November 12, you can attend a tour at our Rock Springs research farm site.  On November 14, the USDA-NRCS at Big Flats, NY will conduct a cover crop field day that will include many different topics including the interseeder.  And finally, on Dec. 5, Franklin County Extension will have a field day featuring one of the on-farm trials.  For more information about the interseeder project, contact either Greg Roth or Bill Curran.

Contact Information

Gregory W. Roth
  • Professor of Agronomy
Phone: 814-863-1018
William S. Curran
  • Professor of Weed Science
Phone: 814-863-1014