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Game-changing Cover Crop Tool Arrives

Pennsylvania farmer's helical roller designed for no-till planters brings one-pass no-till planting in standing cover crops to reality.

Welcome to the brave new, fast-evolving world of cover cropping – keeping a green crop cover on soils year around. The task has become much easier with advent of Charles Martin's helical roller planter attachment to no-till directly into standing cover crops.

The Loysville, Pa., farmer's innovation is now commercially manufactured by Dawn as the ZRX helical roller. The planter attachment has been the "hot attraction" of field days and Facebook discussions across the country – even a YouTube video. It's just in time to catch the nationwide boom in cover cropping.

Martin and sons teamed up aggressively angled double-disk row cleaners with unique rollers to flatten standing cover crops. Each row unit has a 10½-inch-diameter roller with bars welded in a spiral pattern resembling tractor tire tread. "That tread design helps the rollers easily move through the plant materials," he explains.

Attached to the planter's main frame via parallel linkage and hydraulically controlled from the tractor cab, the 27-inch-wide helical rollers run independently in front of the no-till planter units. The same hydraulics allow raising the rollers to no-till without cover crops.

A V-shaped shield leads the aggressive front-running row cleaners. Together, they split and cut a path through standing cover crops.

The rollers flatten the green crop into a heavy mat deflected to the row middles – away from the planter row. Unlike larger rigid tractor-mounted rollers, the planter row units flex with the terrain, and do a better job crimping cover crops.

"It works with all cover crops we've tested, even legumes," he notes. "Before corn, for example, we'll use a cover crop mix of vetch, clover and ryegrass."

Martin isn't worried about no-tilling into wet soils due to the vegetative cover. "Cover crops tend to dry soil down with plant and root uptake. But once that dense mat dies, it reduces soil moisture losses and improves summer rainfall infiltrations.

"We can get a 5-inch rain, and it's gone!" Dense root development absorbs that water. It doesn't run off.

For more on this cover cropping scheme, go to   

Catch the full story in the soon-to-arrive October issue of American Agriculturist magazine.

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