Paul Marcellino can show you a beautiful field of radishes growing on flat, black land in Cass County. It's not something he thought he would ever see, but the Howard County Extension ag educator thinks there is promise in what a cover crop like that can do for the soil. He's part of the leadership for a five-county project in north-central Indiana to show farmers in an area where cover crops aren't traditional if the concept might be able to help them turn more profit.
The three-year project is one year underway, but there aren't lots of results yet, he says. One thing they're doing is monitoring nitrogen use, capture and retention. One problem they know they must overcome in the area where they are working is to figure out how to seed cover crops in a timely manner when crops traditionally are full-season, and don't come out of the field early.
"Farmers here have typically planted full-season hybrids and full-season soybean varieties," he says. "That makes it difficult to get cover crops started on time in the fall. Yet timely seeding is one of the big keys to making a lot of these cover crops work. Otherwise they don't get a start in the fall. We saw that last year when we tried oats and radishes, but the mixture was seeded late. We didn't get much growth out of it."
One option is for farmers to think about using hybrids and varieties that aren't quite as full season, he says. He thinks that may be necessary if a farmer wants to make cover corps work well. Another option is going with cereal rye, which can be planted later. However, planting no-till corn after rye is tougher, and requires front-loading nitrogen for the young corn crop.
A third option is seeding from the air or with high-clearance rigs, and doing it into standing crops. That option is getting a careful look in their area, Marcellino concludes.