Utilizing precision application of cover crops to minimize planting challenges while maximizing benefits to corn

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2015: $7,289.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Grant Recipient: Upton Farms
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn


  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Soil Management: general soil management

    Proposal summary:


    As a row crop farmer in southern Illinois, the utilization and management of cover crops for effective erosion control and soil health have played an important role in my farming operation. While I have seen and capitalized on the many benefits of using cover crops, I also realize that there are management challenges. One of the main disadvantages of using cover crops is trying to plant corn into them in the spring. Whether cover crops are broadcast or drilled in the fall, they can create a thick residue on the ground and trying to run the no-till corn planter across the field and establish a good stand can be difficult. Different cover crop species provide different types of benefits to the soil, like enhancing nutrient availability, reducing compaction, and erosion control. But another challenge in managing cover crops can be deciding which species to use to maximize benefits to the production crop. On my farm and other farms as well, being able to establish multiple cover crop species within the same field at the same time would help to maximize benefits.
    I believe that if multiple cover crop species could be drilled in the fall using a precision seeder with RTK leaving a winter killed strip to plant into, the challenge of planting into heavy residue could be eliminated. Unfortunately, there is no piece of equipment available for this type of application.

    In order to address the problems of 1) establishing a good stand of corn in heavy cover crops and 2) the unavailability of equipment for the application that I need, a prototype will need to be fabricated in order to develop a no-till system using precision planting of multiple cover crop species in a single pass.

    The fabricated precision drill will have units set on 7.5 inch centers with three seed meters that will let you plant different cover crop species or a mix of different species in each unit or row. With this type of precision cover crop establishment, a low residue area every 30 inches can be created to allow for ease of corn planting while still being able to provide maximum benefits for the soil and corn crop. This bio-strip till area could enhance corn growth and production while allowing the cover crops in the row middles to continue to grow and provide nitrogen, improve soil health and erosion control.

    Based on recommendations from Mike Plumer, I plan to utilize the following cover crop species for evaluation in research plots established using the fabricated precision seeder: hairy vetch, crimson clover, cereal rye, radish, buckwheat, rapeseed, oats, and annual rye. John Pike will be helping to design and layout replicated research plots using the cover crop mixes recommended by Mike Plumer, as well as planting and harvesting the research plots with specialty equipment set up with RTK and designed for small plot work.

    I feel that by incorporating this precision application of cover crops into their no-till system, producers will improve soil quality, soil health, reduce erosion, and reduce time over the field while improving overall agricultural sustainability.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Determine long-term effects of cover crop utilization.
    2. Determine feasibility related to savings on fertilizers and pesticides.
    3. Determine which varieties or species of cover crops are best suited for southeastern Illinois.
    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.