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





    • Project Duration: 2 years
    • Date of Report: February 21, 2017

    We grain farm in the northeast corner of Hamilton county Illinois and are 100% no-till. Our planting practices are half corn and half soybean on the tillable acres, with approximately 1200 acres in cover crop.

    The farm has been 100% no-till for over 20 years. With the use of cover crops, we have been able to use less chemicals and fertilizer. The addition of filter strips, water ways, terraces, and dry dams have increased our yields and promoted better soil health.



    • By using different cover crop species, I hope to maintain good erosion control but eliminate the disadvantage of planting into thick cover crop residue.
    • My long term goal for creating this precision, multi-cover crop species seeder would be to make the planting of cover crops easier and more efficient, thereby increasing the number of farmers who would incorporate cover crops into their farming operations.


    There is a growing interest in cover crops, however new challenges are encountered and time and dedication are required to find out what works best for each operation. One of the common challenges with utilizing cover crops is allowing the cover crops to develop until planting to get the fullest advantage out of biomass and root development.  But doing this can create difficulties when planting into heavy green residue.  To meet the goals of this project, I fabricated a precision seeder that allowed for a mix of different cover crop species to be planted both within the corn rows as well as between the corn rows.  By seeding cover crops species that are easier to plant into within the corn rows and different cover crops species with heavier residue in the middle of the crop rows, I was hoping to maximize advantages and minimize the challenge of planting into green, heavy residue. The most challenging cover crop species to plant into were placed in the row centers and those that either winter kill or result in a more fragile residue were planted close to or in the corn row itself, with the goal of maximizing corn stand using customary planting equipment.  The results of this system are similar to a conventional strip till operation that works well on flatter soils but is not adaptable to southern Illinois fields due to highly erodible and non-uniform slope direction, which makes contour farming impractical in most cases. 

    When perfected, this system of precision planting multiple cover crops species could allow for a more flexible transition from a typically conventional tillage system into a no-till cover crop system.


    Mike Plumer, Conservation Agriculture

                Mike provided advice on which cover crop species to include in the project as well as concepts to consider in the design of the precision planter.  He also participated in both the field day and study circle at my farm.

    John Pike, Pike Ag LLC

                John was instrumental in setting up the research plots both years, creating the plot layout, helping to plant the plots, as well as collect stand count and yield data both years.  John also participated in the field day and study circle at my farm. 

    Bronwyn Aly, University of Illinois Extension Educator, Local Food Systems & Small Farms

                Bronwyn facilitated and coordinated many aspects of the project, including plot layout and establishment both years, advertising for the 2016 Spring Cover Crop Field Day and study circle that were held at my farm, and taking photographs.

    Nathan Johanning,University of Illinois Extension Educator, Local Food Systems & Small Farms

                Nathan participated in planting the research plot in year one as well as participating in both the field day and the study circle at my farm.

    Adam Birkner, Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation

                Hamilton County SWC helped to sponsor the 2016 Cover Crop Field Day held on my farm.

    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.