Determining what Multi species (8 or More) cover crop mixes perform well in a corn and soybean crop rotation
In 2013 and 2014, VanTilburg Farms Inc. seeded 3 corn and 3 soybean fields to cover crops using cocktail mixes of at least 8 different species of cover crop seeds. The mixes were made up from 26 different species to make up 13 different seed mixes. These were all seeded in growing corn at tasseling and in growing beans just before turning yellow. The same fields were used both years and were seeded the same each year: corn was planted one year and beans the next.
2013 was a very dry summer and planting was done in mid-August for corn and first week of September for beans. Results were poor, as the first sufficient rain was not till September 20. An early cold snap terminated the winter kill species early.
2014 was a very good growing season with corn tasseling in mid-July and beans growing into mid-September. Two of the three corn fields were seeded before tasseling and the third right after tasseling. Soybeans were seeded in mid-September in an excellent stand of still green beans. Soybeans were late maturing due to plentiful moisture.
Objectives and Performance Targets
Many cover croppers promote the value of a cocktail mix of 8-10 species drilled after wheat. The design of this project was to see if the same benefits could be achieved by using VTF’S highboy seeder in growing corn and beans to get a similar benefit from the mixes. Forty acre fields were seeded with 3 different mixes, using a cover crop seeder designed and built by VTF. Some questions to be answered were: With 8 different seeds and different seed size, could even seed distribution be achieved across the field? What species would grow being dropped on top of ground? How early could cover crops be seeded in corn and sprout without dying due to lack of sunlight? How much additional growth could be achieved as compared to seeding with a drill after harvest?
Three farmers provided a bean and a corn field for the project. The crop rotation is corn and beans so that the same mixes were planted in the same plots each year. One year of corn, and one year beans. Three different mixes were spread on 3 plots of corn and 3 plots of beans, replicated 3 times in each field each year. The plots were planted the same each year. Some plots were designed to winter kill and some were designed to be sprayed and killed in spring before planting.
Two plots tours were scheduled with disappointing results, with five showing up in Indiana and seven at the tour in Ohio. A late harvest was part of the problem. The best education took place when people were invited on a one-on-one basis to meet with us at one of the plots. Three newsletters were sent to local farmers describing the plots and inviting them to visit them any time. After harvest, signs indicating what species were planted were placed on all plots. Two of the plots had very good exposure on major highways.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Outcomes and Impacts
2013 was a dry summer, without rain until mid-September; this means the species did not get off to a good start. Plots were surveyed March 20 and 27, 2014 and growth was scarce due to the dry fall, rough start and severe winter weather. Winter kill was very evident in all plots. The knowledge gained was the corn plots could be seeded even earlier. The goal for the 2014 year is to seed some cover crop prior to tasseling and the rest around August 1. The bean fields were mostly affected by the dry fall at seeding and did not have growth as expected.
2014 was a good growing year and corn plots were seeded in early July before two of the fields tasseled and just after tasseling on the third field. Rain followed soon and germination was good in early August. It was evident that there was very poor germination of the large seeds such as sunflower and to our surprise, there was also poor germination of buckwheat. Cow peas, sun hemp and flax were rated as poor. The rest of the species showed good to excellent stands across the plots.
Harvest 2014 was wet and late and cover crops showed the stress from lack of light and harvesting in wet fields. November 9th, temperatures dropped to 28F and on the 24th 15F degrees was recorded, killing most growth. Since then it has been a cold winter without much snow cover.
It will be interesting to see how the rye grass, wheat, and vetch survive. They all showed good growth and vigor at harvest. Most cereal grasses, legumes, and brassicas did well on a majority of the plots in 2014. Rape and Ethiopian cabbage were not as dense as radishes and turnips. Sun hemp sprouted but did not grow. Peas, cow and winter, were thin and only did well in areas of very thin stands of corn and beans.
Mixtures of any 3 or 4 grasses, oil seed radish, purple top turnips and clovers, vetch and non GMO beans gave satisfactory stands. These seemed to do well in both mixes designed to winter kill and mixes designed to still be growing in the spring
A late winter and very cold wet and snowy March spelled no growth and almost no green up yet on March 26, 2015. Thus at the time this report is due not much can be said for what survived the winter as of right now it is mostly bare ground showing.
Mixtures of any the grasses, oil seed radish, purple top turnips and clovers, vetch and non GMO beans gave satisfactory stands. Mixes always had something growing well in our plots; it may have been only one species but something was growing. Recommendation would be to mix from 2 to 4 grasses with a brassica and 2-3 legumes. Using several criteria to develop your mix;
1. should the mix winter kill,
2. cost of mix, and
3. time of planting
8495 South State Route 1
Keystone, IN 46759
Office Phone: 2602731717
6974 Mercer Road
Mendon, OH 45862
Office Phone: 4197933421