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10 tips from a veteran no-till, cover crop field day host

Roger Wenning brings people together to talk about cover crops.

Roger Wenning gets it. He knows that he doesn’t know everything about no-tilling and using cover crops. He also knows that while he can learn some things through experience, he will never learn it all.

Wenning, of Greensburg, Ind., attends meetings about cover crops and follows the activities of the Midwest Cover Crop Council. He opens his farm gate often, bringing in farmers from all over to see his own cover-crop plots — but more importantly to share ideas.

Related story: Meet the newest person promoting cover crops

Wenning recently held a roundtable discussion with two dozen veteran cover croppers. Here are 10 tips Wenning offers gleaned from that discussion.

1. Don’t overreact if an issue arises. Particularly in the eastern Corn Belt this spring, a perfect storm resulted in a few documented reports of cover-crop roots clogging tile lines. “It mainly involved cereal rye,” he says. “Probably 99% of growers didn’t see a problem. We need to address it, but not overreact.”

2. Maintain tile lines. Some instances of tiles clogged by roots likely were linked to issues with the tile, Wenning says. “Roots don’t grow in air,” he notes. “If tile lines are clean and water flows out, there shouldn’t be anything for them to grow into.”

3. Review seeding rates closely. About 22 to 30 seeds per square foot are likely sufficient, depending upon which species you seed, Wenning says. Think in terms of seeds per square foot and not just pounds per acre.

4. Seeding rate may affect rooting depth. If the seeding rate for the cover crop is on the light side, roots may go deeper, Wenning notes.

5. Annual ryegrass can be controlled. It’s one of Wenning’s cover crops of choice. Using glyphosate at recommended rates, spraying when the ryegrass is growing — and only during midday —  he typically controls it well in the spring. If he does get regrowth, he adds glyphosate on his postemergence weed-control trip and knocks it out.

6. Test and treat spray water. Farmers he talks to are firm believers that spray water quality is critical. If the pH needs adjustment, treat it. It’s critical when going after something like annual ryegrass, Wenning says.

7. Cereal rye cover minimizes weed problems. “I planted soybeans into head-high cereal rye this spring,” he says. “By late summer, there were no weeds peeping through. In one spot which didn’t have a cover crop, weeds poked through.”

8. Up seeding rates with aerial and broadcast applications vs. drilling. Alternative seeding methods can be effective, Wenning says, but using them may mean selecting higher seeding rates.

9. Don’t let cover crops become a budget casualty. “I asked every farmer if they would cut back on cover crops,” Wenning observes. “Everybody said ‘no.’ They’ve seen enough benefit that they’re not cutting cover crops just to save money.”

10. Late-season cereal rye seeding still works. You can still seed cereal rye in many areas into November. “Some have even experimented frost-seeding a cover crop in late winter successfully,” he says. “You still get some benefits and cover in the spring.”

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