It’s hard to pick up a farm magazine these days without finding an article on cover crops. Why you should plant them, when you should plant them, and what should you plant to put nutrients back in the soil.
They help reduce soil erosion. Their roots break up compaction. And they can fix nutrients so they don’t get washed away, and they put some in while they’re at it.
But now, let’s get down to the mechanics of how to plant them and get that seed to the ground. That’s where it gets fun because there’s a whole lot of innovation and wheel spinning on that front. Seeders are being paired with vertical tillage equipment, combines are working double-duty as seeders, and sprayers, dry boxes and even robots are applying them as they would fertilizer.
Tim Duckert, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University Extension, says the method used will effect seed germination rate and stand quality, so it’s important to choose wisely.
“Using equipment that allows accurate application at the correct rate will save money and help ensure sufficient cover,” states Duckert in a bulletin called Cover crop seeding methods and equipment. “Since cover crop seed sizes and weights vary, it is important to match equipment to both the seed and management practice.”
In his bulletin, he outlines the four basic methods: Broadcast by air, broadcast by ground, incorporation, or drilling.
“There are many variations on these methods,” Duckert writes. “Watch different equipment in action on farms and at farm shows. Every piece of equipment is different, and individual farm needs depend on the management system in use.”
He offers these helpful hints:
-No matter what seeding equipment is used, an agitator in the seed box is essential when using grass seeds. The agitator prevents bridging and keeps seeds flowing uniformly.
-A slower-turning metering unit and a larger feedout opening reduce seed grinding and cracking.
You can read Duckert’s article in full here.
If looking at where to buy equipment, here are just a few resources:
- 6 ways to seed cover crops
- Equipment innovation for cover crops
- Hagie STS sprayer with Cover Crop Interseeder. The CCI incorporates boom hosing and a Gandy dry box for below canopy broadcast seeding of cover crops.
- Farmer-built model
- Cover crop tools equipment for conservation farming
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