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fall drilling cover crop

Mahaska County, Iowa, farmer Michael Jackson, a dealer with Iowa Cover Crop, in the field this fall drilling cover crops.

From rain to snow, the harvest season has seen its fair share of delays across the Midwest.

Cover crop applications have been progressing, and with aerial applications wrapping up in many areas, Justin King, a resource conservationist with the Illinois NRCS, said seeding has been a little more challenging this year.

King, who works in Charleston, Illinois, said the major reason for the challenge was this spring’s delayed plantings.

“A lot of folks didn’t get in until middle to end of May to even plant,” King said. “The folks that planted cover crops last fall, we heard several were a little frustrated because they couldn’t get in and get them killed when they needed to this spring.”

Some farmers were able to get cover crops flown on early, which King said may have been the only way to plant this year. Now, a week into November, options are limited. Cereal rye and wheat could be planted in some areas yet, King said, but the window is quickly closing.

“I don’t think a lot of folks were going to take the time to get off the combine and go plant cover crops,” King said. “We did have some stuff get flown on, so that helped out quite a bit.”

Brian Lang, Iowa State University Extension agronomist in Decorah, Iowa, said the dryness from July to August created some concern for cover crop planting. However, rains turned back on at the start of September.

While corn and soybeans were late in maturing, Lang said there was a window for aerial seeding of cover crops into a standing soybean crop.

“From early September onward, we had good conditions for aerial seeding of cover crops,” Lang said. “If it wasn’t too wet, those that got the corn silage off could turn right around and drill in some cover crops. From those standpoints, seeding should have moved along quite well.”

The aerial-seeded cover crops should not be an issue while harvesting corn this year, even when factoring in delays, Lang said. He said there are some situations where a cover crop might take off quickly and get in the way of combining soybeans.

Michael Jackson, a dealer with Iowa Cover Crop, said his drilling applications have been delayed this year, and snows hit his area of Mahaska County, Iowa, to end October.

“If you are going to put on cover crops with a fertilizer spreader or a drill, if the combine hasn’t gone through the field yet, you aren’t able to do it,” he said.

With a drill, Jackson said he is willing to run deep into November if needed. He said farmers could go right up until the first freeze or even early in the spring to get seed in. That would still give producers enough time to see the benefits.

“We don’t want to let our soil sit neutral very long,” he said.

Jackson said one benefit of getting cover crops drilled is the seed is already underground, sparking quicker germination.

King said lower commodity prices have not been a limiting factor for cover crops. He said the benefits farmers see outweigh added cost, which keeps them loyal to the practice.

“I don’t think it’s been a deterrent for folks that want to try it,” he said. “The folks that are really into cover crops don’t seem to let that bother them as much.”

And this year, some farmers took more prevent plant acres which opened up some possibilities. King said he saw more people coming into his office this year to inquire about cover crops and what might work well for their farm.

“We tell them they need to check with their crop insurance agent to make sure they don’t have any issues there,” he said. “We definitely saw an uptick of people asking about them due to prevent plant. They wanted something out there to hold the soil in place among some other benefits.”

He said preventing compaction and erosion, along with some extra nitrogen in the soil, are benefits that interested most farmers.

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