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Precision Takes Cover Crops to Whole New Level

Precision Takes Cover Crops to Whole New Level
Farmers cut seeding rates using precision planting.

The first step in deciding whether to grow cover corps is determining if they return a benefit or not. Rodney Rulon, Cicero, part of Rulon Enterprises, says they have determined that with their own plots. Cover crops return a yield increase, plus they get all the other benefits, such as soil protection and improved soil health.

The second step after you've decided that cover crops pay is to determine how you will seed them. That depends somewhat upon which cover crops you're seeding. In Rulon's case, where they seed several thousand acres of cover crops each year, they use different methods of seeding.

Make cover crops precise: Rodney Rulon, with daughter Claire, is cutting down on seeding rates and costs when he can in cover crops by using precision planting.

"One of them is to let a neighbor who is retired drive an older no-till drill we no longer use for seeding and follow the combine seeding annual ryegrass," he says. "He seeded 800 acres for us this fall."

One of the newest methods some of the innovators are trying is seeding cover crops with precision planters. Instead of corn or soybeans in the spring, they're seeding cover crops in the fall. Rulon used it on a sizable number of acres this past fall.

Originally, they used a White planter. Now, they use a 60-foot Great Plains planter with splitters. It allows them to put the seed at a precise depth and spacing. One advantage is that they can cut seeding rates. For example, Rulon was able to drastically reduce some seeding rates because when the seed is placed precisely, it has a far better chance of coming up.

Air vacuum planters work well. The only challenge is finding the right plate since the planter manufacturers don't typically make plates for cover crop species. With the White planter, the sugar beet plate works to plant radish seed, for example.

Rulon doesn't plant annual ryegrass with the planter. The seed doesn't lend itself to working well in the vacuum system. That's why the Rulons seed annual ryegrass with an older no-till drill.

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