Farmers experiment with strip tilling into cover crops
Brothers are trying rye, radishes, peas as ground cover
Some farmers use cover crops as grazing for cattle, and others use them to protect against soil erosion.
Brothers Alan and Neil Hett of Marion are trying something new this year on acreage they farm north of Marion.
After taking wheat off, they planted several fields of rye, tillage radishes, and Austrian winter peas in early August to cover the bare ground and keep the topsoil from blowing away.
One field was so muddied up from harvesting the wheat while the ground was wet that they used a field cultivator to smooth the soil before planting it.
In late November and early December, they strip-tilled the fields, applying anhydrous ammonia to the strips to prepare them for corn planting in spring.
Strip tilling allowed them to disturb the soil only where seed will be placed.
Applied directly to the soil, anhydrous ammonia, a pressurized liquid, immediately becomes a vapor after leaving the storage tank.
The anhydrous ammonia was buried 8 inches deep in rows 30 inches apart.
Anhydrous ammonia is always injected well below the soil surface to prevent its loss as a vapor back into the atmosphere.
“If the ground is cold, the anhydrous will stay there,” Alan Hett said.
In spring, the brothers will burn off the rye with chemicals and use a planter that will place the seed into the tilled strips. Some additional fertilizer will be added.
Hett said the cover crops were intended to loosen and protect the soil and provide better moisture and nutrient penetration.
The Hetts have other acres that do not have cover crops but will be planted with corn.
These have also been strip-tilled and anhydrous ammonia applied. Harvest results from those fields will be compared to those with cover crops to see if there will be a difference.
“It’s just an experiment,” Hett said. “We’ll find out if it worked.”
Last modified Dec. 11, 2019