2018 Spring Planting

We applied a burn-down herbicide application on May 8 to terminate the cover crops and control other weeds. On May 9 we planted a group 2.7 soybean. This included planting with a drill into standing cereal rye, wheat and annual ryegrass. This has become a fairly standard practice among experienced cover croppers. Sometimes the cover crops are controlled after planting with an early post application. The standing cover crops do not usually created a problem planting into – you just need to make sure your planter is set up correctly. As the cover decomposes it creates a mulch layer which can be a big help keeping soils cooler and retaining moisture during hot, dry years.

Keep in mind that with corn you can have a problem with a high carbon to nitrogen ratio creating a deficiency situation early in the growing season, particularly with cereal rye, but this is not an issue with soybeans.

Early May was a very dry period for this part of Indiana. I took some pictures on May 25 (not included). The beans were up but barely and I was a little worried about complete termination. We received some rain last week, about 1.5″, and things changed completely with good elimination of the cover crops and what looks like a nice stand of soybeans.

Hopefully with the shorter season beans and an early May planting we’ll be able to get our fall covers in place in a more timely manner than we’ve been able to do the last 2 years. For the start of the growing season things look very good.

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Soybeans planted into the Annual Ryegrass/Hairy Vetch/Crimson Clover/Rape strip. The growth is from annual ryegrass. Use caution with this one – once annual ryegrass goes to seed it can present a problem down the road. Picture taken June 4.
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Soybeans drilled into standing cereal rye. Picture taken June 4.
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March 20 Cover Crops Field Day

The spring Boone County Cover Crops Field Day was held on Tuesday, March 20 at the Boone County 4-H Fairgrounds. This was a little earlier than usual but we wanted to avoid the local school district spring breaks.

We had a good turnout for this and while it was pretty chilly, at least we didn’t have any rain. Or snow. The Indiana Soybean Alliance helped us out by sponsoring lunch for the day.

Stephanie McClain, Indiana NRCS Soil Health Specialist was the first speaker discussing, “What is Soil Health and Why Does it Matter?” She walked through various aspects of soil health such as organic matter and its role, the benefits of increased soil microbial activity, soil structure, and more. She also did a slake test comparing a no-till soil with one which was conventionally tilled with the usual results.

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NRCS Soil Health Specialist Stephanie McClain received some help conducting a slake test

The next topic was a discussion of adjusting herbicide programs to account for cover crops followed by visits to the plots.

At the plots, NRCS Soil Scientists Mike Wigginton walked us through the various cover crop strips. Unfortunately, even though this was the first day of spring (yes, it really WAS a spring field day!) the weather had been cold enough that only the two cereal rye plots showed substantial growth. Just a little barley, wheat, and annual ryegrass were starting to emerge/break dormancy in other strips. For this reason we did not dig soil pits. Instead Mike used his spade to turn some soil over. He was able to show how the cover crops and no-till were having an effect on soil color, texture, and compaction after just three years of cover crops by comparing it with a conventionally-tilled field next to ours.

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NRCS Soil Scientist Mike Wigginton at the plots with the group.

After returning from the plot visits we had lunch, sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance followed by a presentation by some seed companies. They discussed cover crop selection, planting methods, and how and where to purchase seed.

I mentioned that our plots border a conventionally-tilled field. We took soil from this field and from ours and did another slake test.

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On the left is soil from a conventionally-tilled field. On the right is soil from our plots. Note that after just three years of no-till and cover crops our soil is much more stable. Less has broken down into the water. This soil is much more resistant to erosion, as well as having other benefits.

While we didn’t dig soil pits Mike did take some soil cores. He found evidence of living roots down to 34″ deep in the cereal rye strip.

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Following the presentation by the seed company representatives those who wanted to earn Pesticide Credits could stay for an additional program.

This was another good, successful field day. Though cold, at least we stayed dry. Thank you to everyone who helped out with the field day and for all of those who have supported the project the last three years.

A month later and we’re still waiting for warmer weather (it was snowing yesterday, April 16) but look forward to terminating the cover crops, planting soybeans, and seeing what the 2018 growing season may bring. I hope to be able to post more frequently in the coming year.

NOTE: I used to be able to post images as thumbnails where you could click on it for the full-size picture. This feature does not appear to be available, or if it is, there is a different way of doing so. If anyone has any tips, feel free to e-mail me. I briefly looked through the help topics and didn’t see anything other than setting a theme image for a post which is not what I want to do (or don’t think it is).

The 2017 Growing Season

Apologies for not posting recently. With spring 2018 coming up it seems as if a review of 2017 is in order.

This was a difficult spring in Central Indiana. We first terminated the cover crops in mid-April and then it turned cold and wet so we made an additional herbicide application in late May. We were finally able to plant corn on June 2, 2017. The growing season got off to an OK start with decent rains and fairly warm temperatures. Later it turned dry with very little rain in August. The rains returned in early September.

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Corn on June 21.

I went out and looked at the field in late July and there were some things worth mentioning. Keep in mind that for this project we plant cover crops in 40-foot wide strips. I wouldn’t say that corn looked better or worse in a strip but it did look like some strips were further along. We planted the entire field the same day, using the same equipment and the same settings however on July 31 some strips were well along in silking while the Oats and tillage radish strip in particular had just started to tassel and plants were about a foot shorter.

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July 31, 2017. Note the strip of shorter corn starting at about the center of the picture and to the left. This is a strip planted to oats and tillage radish.
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A closer view showing the difference in height and maturity between strips. In this case oats and tillage radish on the left, straight no-till on the right.

This continued through the growing season. I went into the field on August 31 to look at maturity and black layer formation (maturity) was just starting in two strips while in the no-till and Oats/Tillage Radish strips the corn was in early dent – just leaving dough stage. If I’d had no other information to go on I’d have said those strips were planted 10-14 days later than the others. Again, the corn didn’t look better or worse, just at different maturity stages. I can’t begin to reach any conclusions about that.

The plots were harvested on October 17. There were some yield differences between strips, much more significant than we saw the previous year with soybeans. Our thoughts are that because some corn matured later it was able to take advantage of September rains after a very dry August. The overall yield was 171.4 bushels which we were fairly happy with. It is also interesting that one of the cereal rye strips had a lower yield which is not surprising – planting corn into cereal rye can be a problem due to Nitrogen availability. However the other one did not.

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2017 strip yields for corn. Notice the differences in both yield and moisture level between strips.

This continues to be a learning experience for us and while field observations were interesting it’s hard to see anything that could be considered actionable. As with 2016, yields were comparable in the strips planted to cover crops compared with those in straight no-till, with the exception of the two northernmost strips.