John Deere planter
SET CORRECTLY: Ask someone who has no-tilled into cover crops successfully how they set up their planter, and see what works for you.

No-till success starts with right planter setup

Don’t try this at home — unless you talk to someone who’s done it and can help you set up your planter correctly.

Your planter needs to be the best piece of equipment you own, especially if you plant into no-till with cover crops. That’s the word from Don Donovan, a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and a contributor to Indiana Prairie Farmer’s Salute Soil Health column.

If you don’t believe it, consider this. One no-tiller planted into thigh-high annual ryegrass that was green this spring! He killed the ryegrass and harvested 220-plus-bushel-per-acre corn from the field. That’s not something you want to try if you don’t have your planter set correctly — and if you don’t have experience with cover crops, or haven’t talked to someone who does.

The farmer believes it worked for him because he has a new planter with all the bells and whistles, which allowed him to get precise seed placement even when planting into green ryegrass.

Get planter right
Planning for the 2018 crop is in full swing, Donovan says. If you’re not a no-tiller already, are you thinking about moving to less tillage or maybe even switching to no-till? Are you wanting to work cover crops into your system, and maybe even plant into standing green cover crops like this farmer did? Since you will be relying on your planter as your only pass through the field, that planting operation must be as fail-proof as possible, Donovan says. 

Successful no-till farmers across Indiana testify that their success depends on their planter. Donovan recommends that if you plan to use your existing no-till planter and add cover crops, go over the implement with a fine-toothed comb. Your goal is a perfect stand of corn, with every seed placed at the same depth and spacing so every seed is in the exact same soil moisture and temperature environment, and the crop comes up evenly. 

You may need to replace springs, bushings or double disk openers, or you may need to add row cleaners or change the closing wheels. In some cases, you may need to consider trading planters.

If you don’t feel confident checking the planter yourself, ask a local successful no-till and cover crop farmer to stop by and do a walkaround of your planter. Ask him or her to go over those important details that will make your no-till experience more successful. 

Spend the time and the money this winter to get your planter ready for spring, Donovan says. Remember, your success depends on your planter doing the best job it can.

Seek out mentor
As noted earlier, learning from others is key. Donovan recommends reaching out to experienced soil health-focused farmers in your community. Be a sponge and glean as much valuable information as you can. 

Every successful long-term user of no-till and cover crops will admit to making many mistakes. If you can avoid mistakes, it will make your journey to healthier soil that much easier, Donovan says.

He notes that there is nothing better for farmers wanting to implement no-till and cover crops on their farms than learning from an experienced mentor to ensure their move to a soil health system is successful. A mentor can help you take the information you’ve gleaned and implement it. If you need recommendations for a good soil health mentor, stop by your local NRCS office. 

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