20190708 IMG Early Cover Crops.JPG

You have hopefully read some other articles here in this column and know what cover crops are and how useful they can be. Cover crops and stream buffers are probably two of the most powerful tools that we have in our toolbox to help with erosion, nutrient retention and other issues.  Cover crops can also help with carbon sequestration, a term we are hearing a lot about lately. We need to get carbon (a greenhouse gas) out of the air and into the soil. For as bad as it is in the air, it is that good for everything in the soil. I guess Mother Nature had things pretty well figured out on how to keep all living things living synergistically.  We just need to keep things “in the right place.”

Again, the best way to accomplish this is to keep something living in the soil at all times. Last year was probably one of the worst years on record for growing things through photosynthesis. A lot of growing problems were blamed on way too much moisture, and that would be one of the biggest culprits. The converse, another major factor, is what we don’t have when we are getting that much rainfall. SUN! What does it take to grow plants? SUN. We must have it.

At the end of last year, we had experimented with getting some cover crops in the ground different ways. Most of the cover crops are planted after the annual crop (corn, soybean, vegetables) has been harvested. It has been about the only way, right? You have to get one crop off before putting on the next. Well, not anymore. Last year we went in with a “highboy” inter-seeder to put seed down between the standing rows of corn. The theory is to provide just a little head-start over waiting until after harvest. Good theory. And it did work ok in some places. In others, not so much.

Will it always work like this? Was it because of the weather? No one will know until we get a few years under our belt. It was one snapshot in time. However, it certainly makes us consider different ways of establishing these green, growing covers. Penn State developed a drill inter-seeder to plant cover crop when corn is roughly knee-high. They also have had mixed results, depending on where in the state they did it and the species that they worked with.

We are going to give this earlier planting a try this year using the “highboy” air seeder. We will be going into some knee-high corn and broadcasting cover crop seed, hoping it will get established and survive long enough to come out the other end (after row crop harvest) and thrive as soon as the canopy has been removed.

We are also going to try mixing side-dress nitrogen with it. Corn likes to have its nitrogen between 24” and earing time. This would work perfectly for that also. We do have a local entrepreneur that has been doing the cover crop like this for a couple years, and with good success. We also had a cooperator last year have a radish that was 2-inches across and 3-feet deep in a field he did this early. That is what we need for cover crops. Time and trial work will tell us what we need to do to get there. 

The conservation district’s high clearance air seeder works nicely, covering 90 feet with one pass, which means fewer passes through the standing crop. If you have any interest in trying this, please give our Ag Team a call.

The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely.  You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.