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Planting corn before termination of cover crop

By Chad Hobbs

 Cover crops are nothing new to many grain farmers in the Meade County area. Some have been using them in their rotations for decades now. Rye has been a long-time staple in a cover crop rotation in this area. Many other plant species have also been experimented with, as well. Barley, peas, field turnips, radishes and crimson clover are just a few.

 Traditional programs lean towards killing down a field and its cover crop prior to planting corn in the spring. No one would dream of planting into a green field over cover years ago, but what started as a fringe experiment is becoming closer to a mainstream practice all the time, as more and more data is showing that there may actually be great benefit to planting corn into a green field.

 Phil Needham, from Calhoun, KY, recently released the results from a no-till cover crop research trial they did on a farm in Glenville, KY (approximately 10 miles south of Owensboro) that concluded last Thursday, and the results showed a definite yield bump in his case by planting into a green field.

 Needham stated that they planted the corn on April 3 of this year.

 “We found (just one year’s data, and my comments and experience are based on only 2 replications) planting green into wheat, peas and crimson clover or planting green into peas and crimson clover, yielded 7.83-12.61 bushels per acre more (on average) than terminating the cover crops +/- 30 days pre-plant,” explained Needham.

 Needham said his planter was setup to no-till into fairly dense cover crops with a Yetter Devastator Cover-crop Crimper (and additional 500 pounds of toolbar ballast), Martin Row Cleaners with razor wheels, Martin UMO-100 Fertilizer Openers, Needham 20 Point Closing Wheels and Martin Drag Chains.

 The cover crop was planted at the end of September 2019 at a rate of 25 lb/acre wheat, 35 lb/acre peas and 6 lb/acre crimson clover based off seeding rates specific to that planting date. He said the ideal wheat planting date for his area is October 10-25. Since the wheat was planted earlier, it tillered more than average.

 He also added that he would have preferred to wait and let the covers get bigger before planting to help them crimp better, but due to ideal planting conditions at the time, they went on and planted.

 “These Martin Floating Row Cleaners have the Razor Wheels (with the swept back teeth). We didn’t find they wrapped at all in these trials,” said Needham. “Standard finger-wheels would have probably wrapped in this cover within the first few feet.”

 The final results showed that a wheat/pea/crimson clover cover terminated 30 days prior to planting yielded an average of 226.43 bu/acre. The wheat/pea/crimson clover terminated 2 days post planting averaged 239.04 bu/acre. The pea/crimson clover cover terminated 2 days post planting yielded 234.26 bu/acre.

 Earlier this year, I spoke with a farmer in Flaherty who had planted his soybeans earlier this year than ever before. This year’s late frost affected some of those beans that were planted into a terminated cover crop. He noticed around sink holes and similar areas where there hadn’t been a good kill on the cover crop the beans were not affected as they were out in the terminated cover crop.

 It appears there may be good reason for farmers to start at least experimenting with planting into green cover. It appears to assist with late frost, it helps dry out fields quicker due to the biomass pulling water out of the ground and as Phil Needham’s experiment shows, it provides a nice yield bump even on a bumper crop year like 2020 is set up to be.