Can you really get a stand planting into maturing cover crops? Part II

Planting into a thick mat of cover crops -- whether green or not -- flies in the face of everything most farmers have been taught.

Conventional wisdom says seed should be placed evenly in a firm, clean seed bed where they can germinate without interference from other plants, insects or other crop pests for water and nutrients.

As this video form the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Irrigation Expo shows, that may not necessarily have to be the case. Johnny Hunter, a producer from Essex, Mo., -- and others -- are planting into green cover crops and getting good stand establishment.

“See? This doesn't look too bad; that will come around,” says Hunter, pointing to a photo of foot-tall corn plants growing in a mat of soil-protecting vegetation he displayed during his presentation at the Soil and Water/Irrigation Expo at Arkansas State University. “Maybe this guy isn't nuts. Maybe he does know how to farm.”

Soil scientists say cover crop vegetation can help make timely irrigation less critical for producers because the mat helps hold moisture in the soil. Hunter says it can also provide benefits when there’s too much moisture.

“Here’s a picture of soybeans coming up in what most people would consider a nightmare scenario,” he says. “But here they come. They love it. I get better stands now coming up in a mess like this than I ever did just planting on dirt. What we had here was about a three-inch rain on top of this cover.

Protecting the soil

Last spring, Hunter had a two-week dry spell during which he planted most of his crop and then received three inches of rain. “If I had done that under my old system, the soil would have capped over as hard as this right here, and we either wouldn’t have gotten a stand or I would have been borrowing a rotary hoe or something.”

As the season progresses, it begins to look more like a regular crop, he says. “We’ve gotten decent spacing, pretty good emergence. You can tell I’m just making a cut through the cover. I’m not setting out with a big Yetter trash wheel and blowing the world apart so I can get down to dirt. You don’t have to.”

He also showed a photo of his cotton stand in the same general area where he displayed an earlier slide where he planted into a black oats cover cropped that had been flattened with a roller. “I got a good stand of cotton. I planted into a mess, but I got a stand and made good cotton.”

Later in the video, Hunter demonstrated how a narrow furrow created by a small trenching tool can provide enough water through the row middles to keep crops growing through extended periods of drought that often occur in the Mississippi Delta region.

Conventional wisdom also says most benefits of planting cover crops and farming “almost” no-till occur over time as soil organic matter increases and soil health improves. But Hunter says the process paid off the first year.

Benefits begin accruing

“You hear a lot of talk about it’s going to take time for this to work,” he said. “It does, but in one season you will see benefits for your water infiltration.”

He asked Mike Taylor, producer from Helena, Ark., and Robbie Bevis, producer from Lonoke County, both of who spoke at the conference, if they agreed with his statement. Both did.

“We have to remember the big picture,” says Hunter. “We’re here to lower inputs; we’re here to try to stay in business. Breaking free of some of the old things we’ve done is what’s going to keep you in business.”

For more on the conference, visit http://aracd.org/

Planting into a thick mat of cover crops — whether green or not — flies in the face of everything most farmers have been taught.

Conventional wisdom says seed should be placed evenly in a firm, clean seed bed where they can germinate without interference from other plants or vegetative material for water and nutrients or insects or other crop pests.

As this video from the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Irrigation Expo shows, that may not necessarily have to be the case. Johnny Hunter, a producer from Essex in the Missouri Bootheel — and others — are planting into green cover crops and getting good stand establishment.

"See. This doesn't look too bad," says Hunter, pointing to a photo of foot-tall corn plants growing in a mat of soil-protecting vegetation. "Maybe this guy isn't nuts. Maybe he does know how to farm."

Later in the video, Hunter demonstrated how a narrow furrow created by a small trenching tool can provide enough water through the row middles to keep crops growing through extended periods of drought that often occur in the Mississippi Delta region.

Hunter was one of several speakers at the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation/Irrigation Expo who talked about the importance of growing winter cover crops and allowing them to reach their full potential for covering the soil, conserving moisture and providing nutrients before terminating them and planting in the spring.

 

 

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