all photos jim robb
A three-compartment planter allows for additional versatility when planting companion crops. Jim Robb, a Harper County farmer who has been planting companion crops in both seasons of double-cropping, says the three compartment planter allows him to plan two crops plus fertilizer, or three individual crops.
MOON IS UP
A full moon rises over a field of soybeans and Peredovik sunflower on Robb’s farm. Robb says he has tried numerous companion crop combinations in the five years he has been companion cropping, but that soybeans and sunflowers together are one of the most successful.
This 128-acre field of soybeans and Peredovik sunflowers was planted with 88,000 soybean seeds and 3 pounds of Peredovik sunflower seed per acre. Robb says an adjacent 111-acre field planted the next day with 88,000 soybean seeds only made 9 bushels to the acre less at harvest. He says the sunflowers are shorter than other varieties and produce few seed. He harvests the crops together and turns the “wind” up to clean the sunflowers. The pulverized sunflower stalks provide ample residue into which he plants winter wheat.
The root ball of co-planted canola and winter peas shows massive intermingling of the roots with many nitrogen-holding nodules. Robb says that he has had good success with companion planted canola and winter peas as a winter crop.
As canola and winter peas grow together the stems and leaves become as entangled as the roots. Robb says this field was “armpit” high at full maturity. He says the strong straw of the canola provides a climbing support for the peas. At maturity, the peas were almost a foot taller and turned the yellow canola field white with pea blooms. “It surprised me and a lot of neighbors,” Robb says.
When it’s time to harvest the canola-pea companion fields, the scene can get pretty busy. A portable seed cleaner is in the center here. The semi in the background is dumping a combination of pea and canola seed harvested together in the field into the hopper of the cleaner feed hopper. The truck on the right is receiving cleaned canola seed. The truck on the left is receiving clean winter pea seed. Pea yields are about 20% of canola yield, which explains the smaller truck.
Robb has been companion-cropping for about five years. He says he has been able to document the benefits of growing crops together by also planting test plots like this one, which has only canola on the left and only winter peas on the right. It allows him to compare yields of the single crops versus the companion crops.