Gaesser has upped his initial 20-acre cover crop ante to about 1,000 acres, with more possibly ahead. Winter cereal rye is the main cover crop, with annual ryegrass added to the mix on some fields.

“I like annual ryegrass because of the root growth, but it didn’t overwinter for us last year,” he says. “I see some advantages to cereal rye because it gets a good start in cold temperatures, so we have good growth in the fall and quick growth in the spring for good cover.”

On fields to be planted to corn, Gaesser allows the rye to grow to 6 to 8 inches before terminating it about two weeks before planting. On soy ground, rye is terminated at about 12 to 16 inches before drilling the crop.

To give cover crops the best shot, the Gaessers have added a second 42-foot drill for a quick planting following harvest. The second drill also compresses spring planting season to cope with increasingly variable weather. “We used to think we had to plant corn in six days and beans in eight days,” says Gaesser. “Now we want to be able to plant corn in four 20-hour days and beans in another four 20-hour days.”

Long-term, Gaesser expects to plant cover crops on more acres. “We’re focusing on the 15% of most highly erodible land as a test area,” he says. “But I anticipate we will have cover crops on everything in the next five years. But at a $35/acre cost, it will have to show a value to justify itself on all our acres.”