No-till Crop Management Tips
With a wide variety of different cover crop types available, the time of planting after harvest often dictates which type of cover crop is used.
I have used some spring oats. They have done ok for me. I guess the advantage is that they get a nice cover on in the fall. The disadvantage is they normally they do winter kill, sometimes if you have a mild winter then they'll winter over, normally though they'll kill, then you don't have a green cover crop. So that's why I sort of shy away from the oats a little bit, because I like to have a green growing cover crop in the spring.
I think if you're going early, oats could be more of a selection than if you're going late because you're not likely to get much out of it if you plant it late. But with rye it's different, Rye you can plant later. It still comes on and gets established in the fall and it seems like any time the temperature gets above 50 degrees the rye is growing.
And that could be the dead of winter. It just seems like it will continue to progress, it doesn't seem to go dormant quite as much as the other grains do. So if you have a field that needs a little bit of extra erosive protection that might be the one you choose, because it gives a heavy spring growth that if you let it go until May can get quite tall and also begins to get stemmy, so that when you do kill it, it stays on top of the ground as a mat and doesn't decompose quickly like if you would take a wheat crop and kill it early in the spring, it almost disappears until the corn is up to ground cover height.
Rye's ability to grow more under the cooler conditions of late fall also presents a challenge in the spring. If it cannot be burned down in a timely fashion, the result can be excessive growth that can be difficult to deal with.
It can be difficult if you have a spring where you get repeated rains quickly following each other. It can grow really rapidly and it can get maybe taller than a lot of people would like to have it get.
I did grow a lot of rye as a cover crop years ago and for me it was very hard to manage by not killing that rye early enough. You'd come back a couple of days later and the rye especially with hot weather, the rye was out of control. It had gotten too big. I've already had rye get so big and out of control for me that I actually combined it, when I was planning on only using it as a cover crop. Because of that, I have now switched over to wheat. Wheat does not grow as rapidly and it is just easier for me to manage.
This is another management issue, when you come to the spring now you have to decide at what point do I want to stop this growth, cut it short, and begin my preparation for the planting of the spring crop.
We watch the weather there real close I mean we get up to the 8 inch range, you really watch the weather because you know you don't want to get caught not being able to spray and some springs that's very easy to do.
And every year's different. You can't set a date on the calendar and say this is the day you should burn your rye off, because every spring is different. I like to shoot for a 8-12 inch height that seems to work for me.
I've planted into all stages of rye because some of it does occasionally get a little too far ahead and I planted into rye that was going into heads already. I never had any real trouble.
I never had a real problem. I like to kill it when it's a little smaller, but it don't always happen.
If you're patient enough to knock it down, it's pretty easy to kill with a glyphosate material, Roundup or Touchdown. If you kill it and wait a short while it's pretty easy to plant and when it falls over it makes a great mulch for a hot summer.
With row cleaners it seems to part the cover crop enough that the seed goes in well and it will come up well through cereal rye.
Even in no-till fields maintaining ground cover after soybean harvest is important.
Though the need is there, planting cover crop can be challenging.
It is important to hold that soil over the winter and if you're growing soybeans and you don't have a lot of residue there in the fall let's say it's not a real good year and it's a 30 bushel crop and you don't have a real tall stalk and so you spread that residue on top of the ground and by March it's pretty well melted down to where there's not much there and you're looking at a lot of bare ground. And a lot of times you'll get some really bad weather events in March where you have snow melt or ice melt and that can be in conjunction with a warm spring rain sometimes and so you get a little bit of erosion started in a soybean stubble field. And if you start that erosion in March or in April early in the year, it's a long time before that field has enough cover to really do total protection like you'd like to see. So by having a cover crop there , there's a good chance that you'll avoid that beginning erosion that can blossom into something really troublesome by the time your field gets total cover.
Cover crop stands are established more consistently when using a no-till drill. Broadcasting seed may be an option in some cases especially when using rye.
Well the times that we've used cover crops on soybean ground we've used just a spinner spreader and try to do it as quickly after the combine goes through as possible. Ideally, it would be to spin it on before the first rain after you harvest. Because what you've got on top of the ground is kind of a fluffy mat after the combine goes through. The residue is still standing high on the stubble and when you spin the seed on there it falls through that and then your first rain mulches it. And it will come up real nice and you don't have to disturb the soil which is a good thing; a good process if you're in a soybean stubble area sometimes all you have to do is disturb that soil and it will have a tendency to erode on you if you get a really hard storm.
Perhaps what's needed most is making cover crop planting a priority during the busy harvest season.
Well it is a challenge and it is difficult to get it done. The main thing is to try and get it seeded as quickly as you can as the soybean harvest is done. And that's so much easier to say than to do. Because harvest is a very busy time for everybody and it seems like there are so many more priorities other than seeding the cover crop. So the tendency is to, well I'll get around to putting the cover crop in when I have time. Well the problem with that is if you wait till you have time you don't start until Thanksgiving, when it's basically too late to get the cover crop in. So you need to make it a priority, just, even if you only have a couple hours in the day to seed cover, or if you can hire somebody to run the drill to get the cover crop planted.
I think the important thing is to just make sure that you get it on as quickly after the combine as you can, and in most years you'll be successful.