Multitude of ways to seed cover crops

Slideshow: Pick the method that works best on your farm.

There is more than one way to skin a cat. How many people ever actually skinned a cat is questionable, but the meaning of this old axiom is clear. If you’ve got a job to do, there’s usually more than one way to do it. The way you choose to seed cover crops may work best for you, while another method may work best for someone else.

Greg Lake, Fort Wayne, Ind., farms and also promotes soil conservation as an employee of the Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District. He believes one of the keys to getting a good cover crop stand is proper seeding. To him, that means using a tool that places the seed in the ground.

“We tried out a new tool a few years ago that lets us seed cover crops and apply fertilizer after harvest at the same time,” Lake says. “We were looking for something that would let farmers do two jobs at once, and this seems to work.”

Seeding after harvest can limit which cover crops you can use. Cereal rye is one option often used for later seeding applications.

The Allen County SWCD rents this tool and other conservation tools to farmers so they can try the concept. Many other districts across the country offer rental opportunities on various types of tools. “In our case, it’s $15 an acre, counting a tractor and driver,” Lake says. “It’s a real opportunity to try cover crops.”

The Allen County rig can seed up to 20 pounds of alfalfa or 1.5 bushels of cereal rye per acre, Lake says. You can also blend fertilizer and apply at variable rates.

His district also rents out a 24-foot Turbo-Max implement with seeder. It’s another option for those who want to do vertical tillage and apply cover crop seed at the same time, he says.

Off the combine
As cover crops gained in popularity, farmers with lots of acres to cover or with limited help soon realized there was an opportunity to spread cover crops while combining. The trick was figuring out how to attach a seeder unit that would deliver seed by air behind the combine head, across the width of the header.

Some worked with companies. Others rigged up their own methods. The advantage is that once the combine pulls out of the field, that field has also been seeded to a cover crop.

Like with some other methods, this one may be best suited to a cover crop like annual rye, which can be seeded later in the fall than some species. 

Another option on display at a field day on Mark Remke’s farm near Harlan, Ind., this year was a John Deere F4365 high-capacity nutrient applicator. The dealer who displayed the unit said it featured New Leader’s latest spreader box. It can deliver cover crop seed mixed with fertilizer accurately.

High-clearance rig
Tony Dean likes to get an early start seeding cover crops each fall. In fact, he and his brother Alan have developed a business selling cover crop seed and custom applying it using a high-clearance sprayer, often into standing crops.

“We usually start near Topeka, Ind., and move east, sometimes seeding cover crops all the way to Toledo, Ohio,” Tony says.

When seeding into standing soybeans in fields going to corn the next year, Tony says they have learned it works better to seed somewhat earlier than leaf drop. That’s when most people who first tried seeding into standing beans seeded cover crops.

“If you go earlier, you pick up dew and then leaves drop on the seed; it’s a better place for it to germinate and grow,” he concludes.

Click through the slideshow for a look at some of the machines and methods other farmers are making work for them.

TAGS: Conservation
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