Farming methods to consider when implementing regenerative ag practices

Harvest is wrapping up and the year is coming to an end. The 2022 crop season will be one that farmers from all across the Midwest will remember for years to come, for better or worse. This crop season had numerous challenges, from drought and delayed planting to a late harvest with either record yields or no yield at all. Even though it has been a tumultuous year, you’ve made it through and can now reflect on best practices from this growing season and better plan for the year ahead.

As we’ve met with farmers across the Midwest, one of the biggest takeaways our team has noticed is the experimenting that is being done. As regenerative agriculture becomes more prevalent, farmers are fine-tuning practices to best fit their operations and goals. Here are a few practices that we noticed farmers taking part in or asking about this year:

60” Corn

Wide row spacing on corn can be a great option if you’re looking to get earlier growth out of cover crops or increase grazing days in the crop field. Widening the row allows for cover crop establishment much earlier in the season without corn canopy affecting cover crop growth later in the season.  Many growers implementing 60” corn are modifying seeding equipment with skips that allow them to plant cover crop seed while the corn is growing. You can still run your same corn planting rates as you would on 30” rows, so variety selection is crucial to make sure your plants can thrive in a dense population.

Application Methods

It’s no secret that farmers are great at experimenting and engineering. By interseeding and reducing the number of trips needed through the field, farmers have discovered many new types of application methods for cover crops. Below are a few different methods that we observed this summer:

  • Seeding cover crops with your corn header- Cover crop seeders that attach to your corn header allow you to seed covers and harvest corn all at once. Both Gandy and Fennig Equipment manufacture cover crop seeders that attach directly to the header and spread seed under the corn head snouts before any residue is spread onto the soil surface. This allows for great seed-to-soil contact. Seed box size is limited so, depending on the header size and cover crop being seeded, many refills may be necessary.
  • Flying on seed with a drone- Why use a plane to fly on seed when you can do it yourself? While the carrying capacity for seed and chemical is small, agriculture drones do allow growers to apply seed and chemical aerially on their own time. This reduces wait time for custom applicators and suitable weather and soil conditions. If purchasing a drone is not a fit for your operation, there are many custom applicators throughout the Midwest now offering drone application services.
  • Vertical tillage seeding- If you’re implementing fall tillage but still want to apply cover crops, there are numerous seeding attachments now available that will allow you to till and seed in one pass. Many VT attachments on the market apply the seed directly in front of the rolling baskets, allowing the seed to be incorporated into the soil without being placed too deep if placed in front of the tillage disks. There are also many large hopper options available if you’re looking to apply cover crops with high seeding rates or reduce down time from refilling.

Relay Cropping

Considering cost of cover crop seed and application, many growers have asked about the potential of adding value with an over-wintering crop as well as a grain commodity while taking both to harvest. An example that has gained a lot of attention are oilseed cover crops such as penny cress and winter camelinaThere are a couple of ways this can be done, the most common being to establish in mid-fall after corn. Another common method is planting an oilseed cover crop and then double cropping soybeans after oilseed harvest. With a longer growing season, it would seem southern states are perfectly positioned to do this but many oilseed brassicas are sensitive to heat and are grown more successfully further north. There is current research that is attempting to develop different varieties for different climates. In addition, there needs to be a market for the oilseed cover crop. This also may require specialized equipment.

Perennial cover crops

Our team also received a lot of interest around the ability to maintain a cover crop for multiple seasons while also growing a cash crop. Typically, we have seen legumes utilized in a heavy corn rotation, however, there is other research looking at the impact of establishing a perennial grass cover crop system as well. Our team considers this practice to be cutting edge and we believe it would likely sequester high amounts of carbon, dramatically reduce erosion, and have potential N benefits. Keep in mind that this can be very high risk if not managed appropriately. Most producers are utilizing strip tillage in this system or precision herbicide management to make clear strips for planting.  This system can also potentially provide additional value for livestock.

This is not a system we would recommend in water-stressed locations.

Resources to read more:

https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/files/icm/PM_mulches_2006.pdf

https://practicalfarmers.org/research/allowing-established-clover-to-grow-with-corn/

 

As we reflect on the year behind us, our RegenConnect agronomy team would like to say Thank You. Thank you for allowing us onto your operation and trusting us as a resource for advice and information. We hope to continue to be an avenue for advice and build a stronger relationship with you and your operation going forward.

If you would like to talk with one of our agronomists please reach out to RegenConnect@Cargill.com and we can get you connected right away!

Have a safe and happy holiday!

From your RegenConnect Team

Jared Jacobs

Jared Jacobs is a Conservation Agronomist with the Cargill RegenConnect™ program. He has deep roots in production agriculture and agronomy and strives to help growers increase profitability when implementing soil health and conservation practices. With previous career experience in microbial soil testing, Jared obtained a great view of the benefits of implementing regenerative agriculture practices into a vast array of cropping systems. He obtained his Bachelor's in Agriculture from Missouri State University and currently resides on his family's farm in West-Central Missouri with his wife and two children.

Anna Teeter

Anna Teeter is a Conservation Agronomist with the Cargill RegenConnect™ program. Her goal is to help farmers successfully implement soil health practices while continuing to advocate for agriculture. Anna brings extensive hands-on experience having worked with the University of Wisconsin-Madison extension services, private ag consulting services, and most recently the Soil Health Partnership, which led her to Cargill. She has a Bachelor of Science in Agronomy and Life Sciences Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters of Science in Soil Science.

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