You often turn to soil and water conservation personnel from various agencies within the Indiana Conservation Partnership for answers when you have questions related to cover crops and reduced tillage systems. Stephanie McLain, soil health specialist with the Indiana Natural Resources Conservation Service, reasoned that if these people are going to talk about and answer questions about such practices as “planting green,” they need to see the practice unfolding firsthand.
Roger and Nick Wenning, Greensburg, Ind., agreed. So, on May 24, McLain brought several soil conservation staff and trainees to watch Roger and Nick plant corn into a green clover cover crop.
“We frost-seeded it into wheat last year, then took hay off last fall,” Nick explains. “This field had dairy manure applied on it as well, and it didn’t hurt the clover.”
Three days before planting, the clover was sprayed with burndown herbicides. It was just starting to turn its top leaves and blooms over as they prepared to plant the field.
“We don’t always spray it ahead of planting, but our crops consultant wanted us to try spraying it first,” Roger says.
He also took time to explain how each portion of the planter functions to the visitors. Their planter is a 12-row, twin-row Great Plains planter. They like the twin-row concept because it allows them to go to higher plant populations. Their goal is usually in the low 40,000-per-acre range.
“We don’t use no-till coulters or residue wheels because we’ve found we don’t need them,” Roger says. However, the Wennings installed disk openers with serrated edges in 2020 and believe they help cut through green stems and residue better.
Tweak the system
The Wenning are always looking for ways to improve their system, Roger says. Aiming for better slot closure, they decided to try planting into a few strips of mowed clover while the soil conservation personnel watched. They mowed two sections right before planting with a Bush Hog rotary mower.
“We’re looking for ways to ensure better slot closure, and our consultant suggested trying it,” Nick says. “When we try something new, we certainly don’t do it on the whole field. We did enough so that we could make a few passes with the planter. Then we can shell passes next fall and see if there is a difference in yield where we mowed versus where we didn’t mow.”
Nick also experimented with grazing just a few acres of the field this year, using electric fence. His beef cattle grazed this spring. He will also be monitoring yields in those areas this fall to see if allowing beef cattle to graze before planting had any impact upon yield.
Stay tuned for updates on how this field performs this season.