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Serving: United States
corn stalks in rye cover crops Willie Vogt

Cover crops: Questions abound

Soil Health Partnership monitoring 220 plots in 17 states in attempt to develop cover crop protocols.

Soil Health Partnership field managers shared insights about cover crops during a July 27 Soil Session.

In Iowa, 80% of growers used cereal rye in their cover crop plantings, said Dustin Brucker, Iowa field manager for the Soil Health Partnership. The Soil Health Partnership is the sustainability program of the National Corn Growers Association. Field managers are monitoring 220 plots in 17 states as part of the partnership.

This is the first year taking standardized plot notes, Brucker said. Notes are taken on the plot four times a year. The first check is generally in the fall when the cover crop is established. The second check is pre-planting. The third visit is post-planting, but early in the cash crop season. The fourth and final visit is mid- to late in the cash crop season. At each field check, soil temperature, residue cover, weed, disease and insect ratings are checked. The same spot in the field is checked each time, he said. This year, sampling is inconsistent due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

In Illinois, where Jim Isermann is the field manager, there was an increase in aerial application of cover crops due to the late, wet fall in 2019. Cooperators were encouraged to plant some kind of overwintering cover crops and most were fairly happy with it in the spring, he said.

He advises growers to terminate the cover crop prior to the 12-inch to 18-inch growth stage.

Early planting in some areas resulted in soybeans taking three to four weeks for emergence where cover crops were planted.

In some years there is a benefit from planting cover crops, Isermann said, in other years not. They are working to establish successful planting protocols. He is inspired by the continued innovation of farmers who are experimenting with multiple cover crop plans of action.

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