Integrating Cover Crop Seeding and Strip Tillage into a One Pass System

Project Overview

FNC17-1108
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $6,650.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Lane Ridge Farms
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Lee Thompson
Lane Ridge Farms
Co-Coordinators:

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn, rapeseed, rye, soybeans, vetches

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, nutrient cycling, strip tillage
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: dryland farming
  • Soil Management: earthworms, nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil quality/health

    Summary:

    Problem
    The problem is that I’m getting concerned about the sustainability of our current management system (corn/soybean rotation, conventional tillage) and would like to implement cover crops and strip tillage on my farm. The second part of the problem is seeding cover crops and strip tillage require two passes across the field, that’s why I’d like to integrate the two systems into one pass. With the low prices, lack of time and labor, I’m trying to reduce trips across my fields and make sure my farm is sustainable for the next generation. I feel these problems are faced by farmers all over the North Central Region and I would like to try and solve these problems! 

    Wind erosion (black snow) in the winter from our conventionally tilled fields and I don’t like to see my expensive land (and all of the neighbors fields too) just blow away! There are very few farmers in our area who have tried cover crops. I read lots of articles of how farmers south of us are implementing cover crops but we are so far north that everyone seems afraid to try anything. Figuring out which mix of species can provide winter cover to our land, spring growth and residue for the early growing season (May/June). It just seems like our weather is so wild that we get these huge rain events in April-June and even though most of our land is fairly level (A slopes), we still get soil erosion. There is some university data on strip till, but I really don’t like to make any major decisions until I see how something performs on my farm.

    I believe that solving this problem is very important will benefit the farmers and ranchers in the North Central
    Region in many ways.

    Solution
    The focus of this grant is to improve soil health, reduce soil erosion and make farming more sustainable while strip tilling and seeding a cover crop. These are not innovative practices by themselves but when combined become an innovative practice.

    Objectives & details

    • Trial Time Period:
      • August 2017-November 2018
    • Trial Design
      • The trial will be placed on two 70 ac fields split in half to be compared with conventional farming practices. 35 ac
        of each field will be conventionally tilled and the other 35 acres will be strip tilled with cover crops seeded. Tillage
        will take place following soybean harvest (approx. end of September) during the recommended seeding window
        to allow for fall germination and growth of the species. A second strip tillage pass will be planned the following
        spring to prepare the seedbed for corn.
      • Two different mixes of cover crops will be used that will be able to survive the winter. Mix 1 will have more
        grasses such as cereal rye, triticale, etc. Mix 2 will have more broadleaves such as hairy vetch, clovers, etc.
      • If possible, I’d like to see if I could let Mix 2 keep growing with the corn crop, without compromising weed control.
    • Machinery design
      • Utilizing a strip till machine, mount a gandy air seeder box with tubing to go between the strip till units to
        broadcast the seed on the soil.

    • Increase soil health
      • Cover crops will add needed organic matter to the soil
      • Feed the microbes
      • Help to build soil structure
      • Reduce compaction
    • Reduce soil erosion
      • Through the use of cover crops growing during the winter, spring and early summer 
    • Improve water quality
      • Using cover crops
    • Yield
      • Measure the effects on corn yield

    Project objectives:

    One of the biggest objectives was Machine design.  In the summer of 2017 I mounted a valmar air seeder onto my ETS soil warrior to allow for air delivery of the cover crops between the row units.  This task required welding and fabrication of brackets to mount the valmar seeder, calculating and calibrating the ground drive system for the proper seeding rate and mounting hoses to deliver the cover crop seed precisely between the rows of my soil warrior.

    This is before any work was done
    Here’s a picture of the valmar seeder mounted and getting the hoses pulled for each row.
    Here’s a picture of mounting the valmar seeder onto the newly welded frame.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The next objective was picking cover crop species to fit my resource concerns.  I had originally planned on getting the cover crops seeded during the last week of september and using a diverse species mix.  Due to a later and colder than normal soybean harvest, I had to deviate from my originally planned mixes.  I decided to pick three different species that would handle the colder temperatures of the fall and two of the species having the chance to overwinter to provide benefit during the spring of 2018.  I selected rapeseed, hairy vetch and cereal rye for my three species.  Each species was seeded individually with the seeding rates as follows:  Rapeseed, 5#/ac.  Hairy Vetch, 5 & 10#/ac and Cereal rye, 40 & 80#/ac.

    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.