Mike Andrew, Ohio County, Ind., saw an opportunity in 2012. He chopped corn during the drought year and seeded annual ryegrass and turnips soon after chopping. The cover crop grew so well that fall that Duane Drockelman, a soil conservation professional, now retired, brought people to see it. A picture of the field was featured in Indiana Prairie Farmer.
“Let me tell you a story about that field,” Andrew recalls today. “We shelled the other half later in the fall and seeded it to cover crops, too. But they didn’t get much growth before winter and didn’t really provide much benefit.
“The half of the field with good cover crops was a different story. I burned it down the next spring and no-tilled soybeans. That half of the field grew better and was taller than the half without the cover all season long. When we combined the field, the yield monitor showed a 10-bushel-per-acre advantage for the half where we had a good cover crop.
“A 10-bushel-per-acre advantage is a big deal for soybeans. That half of the field yielded better the next year after that, too.”
Andrew said it convinced him that cover crops have value. “I would tell anybody that if you have a good stand and get growth in the fall, you will see a benefit from cover crops,” he says. “For me, it was a benefit with a payback in more bushels and profit.”
So, Andrew grows a cover crop on every acre, every year, right? No, he no-tills as many acres as possible every year, and he’s still trying cover crops, but they’re not on every field every year.
“The problem is timing seeding so you get a good stand and good growth,” he says. “I’ve tried different methods, including flying cover crops on into standing crops. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I don’t get a good enough stand to have enough cover in the spring.
“One year I had a good stand of cereal rye after having it flown-on into standing corn. It was picture perfect when we shelled corn. But the corn residue smothered a lot of it out over winter, and by spring, it was really thin.
“For me, it’s not a question of whether cover crops have value. I proved to myself that they definitely can pay off in more yield. The problem is that sowing them and getting them established hasn’t worked very well in my operation.”
That doesn’t mean he isn’t still trying to establish cover and protect the soil, especially in rolling fields and especially after tobacco or silage harvest. Andrew seeded around 150 acres of wheat with his Tye no-till drill in fall 2019. Growing wheat protects the soil over winter.
“Some of that is for a wheat crop, but some of it will be cover that we will plant into next spring,” he explains. He also hopes to establish a new hay seeding on one of the fields seeded to wheat.