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Remove Coulters to Plant Into Cover CropsRemove Coulters to Plant Into Cover Crops

Barry Fisher says the answer may be taking no-till coulters off and putting them in the shed.

Tom Bechman 1

February 13, 2014

2 Min Read

You've got to be kidding, right? Take the coulters off a no-till planter and plant into residue, maybe even cover crops? That sounds like suicide for your crop to some people.


Barry Fisher says it may be the right thing to do, even if it seems backward until you analyze what's happening in the field. Fisher is an agronomist and precision technology expert with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He has spent the last half of his career helping farmers figure out the nitty-gritty details to make no-till and minimum tillage systems work. Recently many of his efforts have been devoted to helping farmers utilize cover crops in their operation to improve soil health, but still maintain or improve yields.

The coulter question came to a head last spring when farmers were trying to plant into moist soil. The real problem was for those who burned down a cover crop, especially rye, then tried to plant into it with a no-till planter, often a split-row planter for soybeans.

"You either want to get rye when it's only knee-high or so and burn it down or let it grow if it gets away and plant into it while it's standing up and green," Fisher says. "Then spray it."

According to Fisher, the worst possible case is to kill it about waist-high. It forms a mat which won't dry out, and also may be like rope when you try to cut through it.

With no-till coulters up front, the coulters may begin to cut the residue, especially dying or dead rye, but not completely cut it. What happens, Fisher says, is you begin hairpinning of residue into the slot that will become the row. Row cleaners may hairpin it as well, instead of cutting through it, since it's already mashed into the spoil.

"If you've got sharp openers you are better off letting the openers cut through it on their own," Fisher says. "You're less likely to get hairpinning. We learned that last year when people were having problems getting depth placement planting into cover crops."

Thinking about a cover crop? Start with developing a plan. Download the FREE Cover Crops: Best Management Practices report today, and get the information you need to tailor a cover crop program to your needs.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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