Establishment of cover crops in corn and soybeans.

Final Report for FNE00-306

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2000: $461.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $4,428.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
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Project Information


Farm Information: We are farming about 1800 acres; 180 wheat, 165 oats, 550 corn, 30 soybeans, 750 hay, 120 CRP. No livestock.

Role of Cooperators: John Rowehl who is a regional agronomy extension agent helped plan the project. He helped to write the proposal and discussed the revisions to the original plan with me and the Northeast SARE office. He also kept a record of the activities that were done and took pictures of the fields as the project went on. He assisted in getting my corn planter adjusted properly for no-till planting and helped measure the yields of the corn at harvest. Jeff Vance and John Flanagan, sales representatives from Monsanto and Syngenta respectively, donated glyphosate products for burndown of the cover crops prior to corn planting.

Project Objectives:

Original Goals of the Project: To determine if innovative establishment methods of planting cover crops will work in my cropping system. These methods are planting legume cover crops in IMI corn at the time of corn planting and overseeding small grain cover crops in standing soybeans at the leaf drop stage. I wanted to see if the use of the cover crops could enhance the tilth of the soil so that no-till planting would be more likely to be successful and to aid in the reduction of soil erosion.


Materials and methods:

Procedure of the Project: In 2000 our area had a month of rain during May that prevented me from planting corn in the field where we planned to plant the clover in the IMI corn. A revision of the project was made after that. We planned to plant hairy vetch and crimson clover in several fields that I had grown oats in that year to establish a green manure cover crop that would be followed the next year with corn. We also planned to make a comparison between a no-till system and conventional tillage system in some fields that had been in sod for a couple of years to see if I could be successful with no-till. The planting of the legume cover crop in the oat stubble fields did not get done until September 22 of that year. The extension agent advised with the later planting date that I not plant crimson clover and plant only hairy vetch. The fields were double disked and the vetch was planted with a grain drill. I did this in four fields. I used a hundred pounds of vetch seed for approximately six acres. The hairy vetch did not get a good start that fall and the stand was less than desired. But then I got a lot of red clover that volunteered in the other half of each field that was to be the check as seen in the photo to the right. Winter annual weeds were quite thick in the parts of the fields where vetch was planted. Since the clover appeared to have a better chance of benefiting the soil I decided to no-till corn into that as well. In May of 2001 we had very dry soil conditions. The extension agent obtained Roundup Ultra and Touchdown IQ from the company reps so we could compare those products. I applied each glyphosate product to half of each treatment in each field. I sprayed the fields to kill off the clover, vetch and sod on May 28 and 30. Both legumes were in blossom. There was no observable difference between the two products. The corn was planted on June 8 and 9. The extension agent advised me to use Pounce on the corn that was planted in the sod fields because of the risk of insect problems. It was more difficult to get the corn planted and covered in the red clover than in the vetch, particularly in the sprayer wheel tracks and where the windrows from last year were. As shown in the picture to the right, the hairy vetch side of the field (right) was taller and more uniform. Spot checks did not indicate big differences in plant population. It was not a very good growing season and the corn crop overall did not do very well.
The fields that had the clover and vetch comparison were harvested on November 12. The sod fields were harvested on November 12 and 13. The extension agent measured the areas that were harvested for each legume treatment, weighed the grain and measured the moisture. I kept track of the weight and moisture of the corn from the sod fields, weighing them on my farm truck scale.

Research results and discussion:

The following table summarizes the harvest data.

Field Moisture % Weight Acres Yield/Acre
10E Clover 18.5 6070 2.21 49
10E Vetch 15.1 7440 1.64 81
10G Clover 15.2 5670 1.96 52
10G Vetch 14.2 5610 1.55 66
10J Clover 16.4 1910 1.11 30
10J Vetch 14.4 3120 1.10 51
10L Clover 16.3 1000 1.0 18
10L Vetch 14.5 3940 1.03 69

In every side by side comparison the moisture of the grain was higher for the clover. It averaged 16.6 % versus 14.6% for the vetch. The yield was higher for the vetch in every field, averaging 67 bu/ac versus the clover that averaged 37 bu/ac. The fields that had been in sod averaged 61 bu/ac.

Even though this corn was planted later and was no-tilled into some heavy vegetation (volunteer clover) it still out yielded corn I using the more conventional way.

Site Conditions Affecting The Results
Planting conditions in May through early June were extremely dry. The no-till corn which had a good corn stand did better than the corn planted the conventional way (chisel, disc, harrow and roll, and plant). The oats stubble where the volunteer clover came up was drier and harder to get the seed deep enough in the ground.
Economic Findings
No-till yielded better and cost to control weeds and bugs with spraying was less than labor and fuel to cultivate.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

John Rowehl will write an article on the project for local agricultural newspapers and post a report on the regional Cooperative Extension web page.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

New Ideas Generated
My next step as a result of this is to try more no-till corn and kill some sod next fall. This will eliminate the use of a pre-emergence insecticide at planting next spring and help eliminate some thistles and quack grass.

Continuation of the Practices Under Investigation
No, because it was hard to fit the drilling of the vetch into my operation. However I learned that no-till can be done on my farm with good results. I have planted some no-till corn this year.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.