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Burn Down Cover Crops Efficiently This SpringBurn Down Cover Crops Efficiently This Spring

The spray water's pH matters. Also, make sure the day is warm enough for active plant growth.

Josh Flint

November 5, 2014

3 Min Read

If only the cost and stress associated with cover crops could somehow be eliminated, this conservation practice would catch on like wildfire.

Kenton and Trenton Carley can't do anything about the cost. However, the father/son team, who farm near Milford, have plenty of tips and tricks for planting and burndown. Along with farming, the Carleys are dealers for Maximum Farming powered by Ag Spectrum.

Once spring rolls around, those lush, green fields must be cleaned up to make way for the cash crop.


With shorter days and cold temperatures still lurking, Kenton notes burndown can be a challenge. Glyphosate is the typical chemical of choice, but it must be applied properly. Kenton has three tips for doing just that.

First off, treat the spray water. On the Carleys' farm, the well water has a pH between 7.8 and 8.2, which is too alkaline for maximum effectiveness. Also, it's slightly hard.

"The moment that glyphosate hits the tank, it's losing effectiveness when the water has that high of a pH," Kenton explains.

He recommends a pH below 6. Additionally, find a way to remove the hard minerals. These simple steps will make burndown much easier.

Second, apply glyphosate at the right time. Kenton says a window of three days when the temperature is above 50 degrees F, without a nighttime freeze is absolutely necessary. These conditions mean the plants are actively growing, i.e. able to actively take up the glyphosate.

Along those same lines, the last tip is to begin spraying after 10 a.m. and stop by 2 p.m. This is the ideal window for ensuring actively growing plants are soaking up glyphosate, Kenton says.

Thinking About A Cover Crop? Start With Developing A Plan
Taking time to design your cover crop plan will increase the successful establishment of the crop and potentially allow for improved staggering of fall harvest.

"With these three little tips, you'll have a lot better success with your spring burndown," he concludes.

Trenton notes radishes and annual ryegrass need to be planted in September. The deadline for radishes is Sept. 15 in his area. With annual ryegrass, the Carleys cease planting at the end of September. Southern Illinois growers may be able to stretch the dates a bit longer.

Tillage radishes need a fair amount of light to get establishes. Trenton notes the key is seeding as soon as 50% of the sunlight is penetrating the soybean canopy and reaching the ground.

"Radishes are fast growing, but they need light to get up and moving," he adds.

This year, the Carleys seeded cover crops the last week in August. Instead of aerial seeding their farm, they used a Hagie high-clearance applicator that was fitted with a cover crop seed delivery system. The system is still in the prototype stage, but should be commercially available in the near future.

Trenton says it takes approximately four hours to change from liquid application to cover crop seeding. He and his father are working closely with Hagie to make slight adjustments for perfect seed placement.

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