Tag Archives: aerial seeding of cover crops

Towery and Kok to Present at NNTC on Cover Crop Variety

The upcoming 2018 National No-Till Conference in Louisville, KY (Jan. 9 – 12) will feature some familiar faces, but with them comes new information about how to make cover crops work for you. Here are two of the classroom presentations you may wish to schedule.

Towery and Kok NNTC 2018

 

Dan Towery and Hans Kok have been educating people on cover crop choices for close to 20 years. Towery helped to introduce  “interseeding” of cover crops into standing corn and beans about six years ago. This year, Iowa farmer Loran Steinlage will discuss his experience with interseeding, and the increases in crop production as a result.

Photo - interseeder from Iowa 2017

 

Here’s a link to the whole 2018 NNTC program

Ray Weil on Cover Crop Benefits

Ray Weil was a guest speaker at the 2017 National No-Tillage Conference in St. Louis. His presentation focused on how cover crops benefit soil nutrient levels not only in topsoils, but in lower depths as well.

Ray is a Univ. of Maryland professor and co-author of Nature and Properties of Soil.

Ray Weil

Here’s a link to the podcast he delivered this year.

Ray’s research has covered how cover crops influence soil nutrient profiles at various depths and optimal planting dates for cover crops, their effects on moisture retention and how compaction influences deep root penetration.

How to Plan for Annual Ryegrass Cover Crop Application

At this point, with corn and soybeans growing to maturity, adding a cover crop this fall can be done in two basic ways: broadcast the seed or drill it.

Broadcasting cover crop seed takes place while the major cash crop is still in the field, towards the end of the season.

    • Aerial seeding is perhaps the most efficient. Seed is delivered to a nearby airfield and loaded in a plane equipped for dispersing a variety of seed types into standing corn or beans.
    • High clearance equipment is outfitted with seed spreaders on long booms. Van Tilberg 2011 Hi-Boy Seeder2

 

The challenges in broadcast application often depend on the equipment. For example, you would need to research your area for an experienced pilot with the proper adjustable seeding set up. Likewise with high clearance equipment: while do-it-yourselfers retrofit their equipment for multipurposes, others find the solution in renting equipment or contracting the application of cover crop seed.

The edge that high clearance equipment has over aerial is twofold: precision and certainty. Whereas planes can be grounded because of weather, rolling equipment has few restrictions in that area. Likewise, aerial application can sometimes create voids in coverage due to seed drift, utility infrastructure and property lines. High clearance equipment, on the other hand, can deliver seed reliably and consistently to every corner of your field.

Drilling Cover Crop Seed used to be the standard in cover crop planting but has become less popular because of one basic reason. The timing for drilling is a problem for many, given the uncertainty with weather after harvest, when drilling is done. Cover crops need passable fields and a month or more of good weather to establish. Broadcasting usually removes that barrier because is is done before harvest takes place.

For more on the topic of seeding annual ryegrass and other cover crops, visit the Annual Ryegrass Website, and specifically the various publications on growing and managing the cover crop.

Annual Ryegrass Has Important Benefits

Farm Progress published a management guide for growing cover crops…it’s available FREE online. Click here. (You will be asked to fill out the information they want – name, email address – before emailing it to you free.)

Cover Crops: Best Management Practices

Here’s part of what the report says about annual ryegrass:

Today, farmers often hear about annual ryegrass and cereal rye grain as popular cover crop choices. It’s important to know the differences of each of these cover crops. Annual ryegrass is a versatile cover crop choice that will protect the soil, reduce soybean cyst nematode populations and hold nitrogen through the winter. Annual ryegrass – which is often referred to as “ryegrass” – has about 33% more roots than cereal rye and provides higher quality feed than cereal rye grain. Annual ryegrass is lighter than cereal rye grain and farmers and custom applicators using high clearance, drills, spreaders for dry fertilizer and airplanes can seed more acres before having to refill than if they choose cereal rye. Annual ryegrass needs to be seeded in August into early and mid-September, depending on location and the weather, while cereal rye grain can be seeded later in the fall, often into October. That, of course, also depends on the weather and location.

If you regularly plant cover crops, it’s probably a safe bet you’ve planted by now. If you’re considering planting a cover crop for the first time, looking at Farm Progress’ Management Guide is a good start. You can also find tons of detailed information about growing and managing annual ryegrass by clicking on this link, which will take you to the annual ryegrass website.

Or, click here to look at videos that discuss various aspects of managing annual ryegrass.

 

Aerial Seeding Annual Ryegrass

Planting annual ryegrass or other cover crops in the fall is tricky. Weather determines when the harvest arrives. If the ground is wet, the harvest can be delayed. If winter arrives early, there may not be enough time to plant a cover crop. That leaves the field subject to erosion, unless you’ve protected it with no-till and prior cover crops.

Farmers find aerial seeding of cover crops a better fit with their schedule. While there are issues involved with aerial seeding – how to avoid wind-drift onto neighboring farms; the cost of hiring a plane or finding a high-clearance rig with a seeder – the advantages seem to outweigh the hurdles.

By seeding annual ryegrass into standing corn or beans, you have a better chance of getting the cover crop established before winter. There are risks, of course. Seeding when rain is expected will give the annual ryegrass something to germinate into…although annual ryegrass seed can lay on top of the soil for weeks without rain without any harm. The risk is that the crop germinates and then you experience a dry spell.

Once the harvest is taken from the field, the annual ryegrass can then flourish in full sunlight. This often gives you extra weeks for the crop to establish before cooler weather sets in and stunts the top growth.

For more information about broadcast seeding and the equipment – whether a plane or a high-clearance spreader – click here.

Loading annual ryegrass seed - Cameron Mills' custom seed loader; Townsend Aviation plane and pilot. Van Tilberg 2011 Hi-Boy Seeder2

Check out the Ryegrass Videos – lots of great info for beginners!

Some years back, the Oregon Ryegrass Commission produced a series of nine videos that detail aspects of growing annual ryegrass as a cover crop.

Here are the links to the first videos in the two series:

Once you view the first, the YouTube site will list the others in the series. You’ll get great basic information as well as helpful tips from cover crop experts and growers who have mastered the management aspects of this cover crop.

Learn how annual ryegrass benefits soil health, then how that translates into profits at the end of the year, with better production for corn and soybeans.

Cover Crops – Annual Ryegrass Sales Grow Even in Bad Weather

Cover cropping continues to grow in popularity and in acreage simply because it builds soil quality, improves yields and adds to profits.

That mother nature doesn’t always cooperate hasn’t diminished the appetite for producers seeking to get on the most popular new farming trend in a half century.

In a presentation a couple years ago, cover crop pioneer Mike Plumer, showed the reasons why cover crops are increasingly important as a farm management tool, particularly in the Midwest. Mono-culture crops have starved the soil of nutrients while sending immense quantities of soil into nearby waterways, eventually contributing to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the Earth’s largest known dead zones due to heavy pollution from farm runoff into the Mississippi river.

Beginning in 1995, the Oregon Ryegrass Commission, working with Plumer and a handfull of farmers, began to experiment with annual ryegrass in barren cornfields over winter. Since then, Oregon growers have created more winter hardy annual ryegrass grass varieties, as well as finding other cover crops, like radish and crimson clover.

Though the percentage of farm acreage in the Midwest committed to cover crops is still below 10 percent, it’s impressive that cover crops now cover millions of acres of corn and soybean acres, building soil quality, preventing erosion and improving production yields.

This past fall, seed dealers and distributors were ready. But the wet conditions and late harvest prevented some from getting the fields planted, according to Dan Towery, another cover crop consultant and colleague of Plumer.

For those times, farmers are increasingly going to new methods of planting cover crops: flown onto standing crops late in the season, for example, or broadcast with modified high-clearance sprayers equipped with seeders. Still others are trying a novel approach called interseeding, where annual ryegrass is planted in the SPRINGTIME, rather than the fall.  Click here to find out more about that program.

Annual Ryegrass and Cover Crops – No “Bad” Years

Last winter’s cover crop season was disappointing, said Nick Bowers, a pioneer in the cover cropping revolution and a partner in the Oregon-based KB Seed Solutions.

Even though newer varieties of annual ryegrass are hardier in tough weather, the winter of 2013/2014 was “the worst in 25 years,” he said. “When you have winter wheat and cereal rye not surviving a winter, you know it’s been severe, and that’s what we saw last year.”

Nonetheless, his sale of cover crop seed hasn’t been hit too badly. And that’s because of two things:

  • The popularity of cover crops has continued to attract farmers trying cover crops for the first time, even as some disappointed by their first try may decide to step back a year or so before trying it again.
  • The number of seasoned cover crop users has also continued to grow. Even though they may not see 2014 as a good year for their cover crop, they’ve seen plenty of evidence of its cumulative value to push forward…taking 2014 in stride, knowing that cover crops won’t be a winner each and every year.

“Those who’ve been in the cover crop program for more than three years are sold…they’ll never quit,” Nick said, “because they’ve seen the benefits in better crop yields and improved soil conditions.”

His advice to new adopters of cover crops has always been to “be cautious, start simple.” He worries that with new government incentives offered, growers will jump in without enough information or experience. He suggests planting small plots of cover crops and check strips, so as to compare results side by side in a field.

But those farmers with whom Nick has been working now for over seven years all tout the virtues of staying with the cover crop effort. “One guy who had years of erosion problems was saying that the water leaving his fields is now cleaner than when it arrived,” he continued. And that’s only the beginning of the benefits, Nick said.

Annual Ryegrass – When to Plant and How Much is Enough?

If you use a no-till drill to plant annual ryegrass, you get better seed to soil contact, but the timing becomes crucial because of crop harvest variability. In the past few years, corn and bean harvests have been later and, in some cases, too late to plant annual ryegrass.

Planting with aerial seeding – plane or high-clearance equipment – can be done while corn and beans are still in the field. The seed lies dormant until sufficient rain germinates the cover crop. But because you’re seeding into standing corn or beans, you must use more seed.

The range of effective seeding rates is from about 12 lb/ac to about double that, if you’re broadcasting the seed. Some worry that applying too much seed will make it more difficult planting corn or beans into the cover crop residue the next spring. Thus, those people favor a lighter seeding rate. Even if the annual ryegrass looks thin in its top growth, the deep mat of roots are still doing their job in the soil, they say.

Others say that a heavier seeding rate is good insurance against harsher winters. Those with interest in using annual rygrass for forage will certainly want to plant at the upper rate of application.

In either case, annual ryegrass is among the least costly and most effective of cover crops. The cost for seed and application can easily be made up in the gains in soil health and increased crop production.

For more information about timing and rates of seed application, click here for a comprehensive brochure.

Get Your Annual Ryegrass Seed Soon

Last year, with the growth in use of cover crops, seed suppliers seemed to find themselves low on seed when July and August came around. While supplies seem stable now, it would be a good idea to lock in your order soon.

Some apply it themselves, whether the old fashioned way, with a drill. In fact, that’s the surest way to get good soil to seed contact. But more often, growers are opting for aerial applications, whether by plane or with high clearance equipment retrofitted with a seeding boom. Both of these applications predate harvest, so as to get annual ryegrass on the ground with lots of time for optimum growth in the fall. Click here for a page of info on planting.

Here’s a link to a page with most of Oregon’s annual ryegrass seed growers. Many of them also grow other cover crop seed too, whether crimson clover or radish or another. Most, if not all, have staff available for free consulting. Many also have sales and crop consultants living in the Midwest.

One thing to ask the grower, or seed dealer: has this seed been grown successfully in the Midwest as a cover crop? This is a question that will get at two variables…the first – is it winter hardy? And the second – have you had any trouble killing the crop in the spring?

Aerial Seeding