The Blanchard brothers have mastered the art of growing cover crops. They should. For the past five years, they've grown a rye cover crop on all their 500-plus no-till corn and soybean acres.
Tom Spellmire is high on rye as a cover crop, too. And like the Blanchards, he welcomed the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans. The herbicide-resistant beans offer distinct advantages for no-tillers using cover crops, they say.
The Blanchard brothers - Ed, Donald and John - farm in eastern Ohio near Howard. On some of their rolling land, a cover crop can be almost as necessary as water for a thirsty crop.
They started seeding rye to reduce erosion, but other benefits quickly sprouted. The rye sucks up excess moisture during wet springs, and adds organic matter to the soil, they say.
The result is increased yields. Their corn averages 130 bu per acre, and beans normally come in at 45-50 bu. By comparison, the five-year average corn and bean yields for their county are 113 bu and 36 bu, respectively.
They began cover-cropping a few acres 15 years ago, and now do it on all their 265 acres of corn and 240 of soybeans.
They start by harvesting 10 to 15 acres of their own rye seed. They use a fast- growing winterhardy variety. After corn and soybean harvest, the rye is seeded at 1 bu/acre with a John Deere 750 no-till drill. Seeding costs, including fuel, are $15/acre.
Their goal is to sow the rye by Halloween. If the seeding is pushed to Thanksgiving, the rate is bumped to 2 bu per acre.
The rye is jump-started by nitrogen in manure from their 150-sow farrow-to- finish operation. It's spread onto the previous crop's stubble before rye is seeded. Additional manure is applied ahead of corn in spring and disked in.
The Blanchards begin planting corn without a burndown if the rye is small. If a burndown is needed, 2/3 pint of Gramoxone is applied. When they plant into thick rye, seed firmers on their planter help push the seed where it belongs.
Soybeans are planted without a burndown if the rye is a foot tall or less. If the Blanchards can get in the fields before May 1, they apply 1 pint of Roundup and 1 pint of 2,4-D ester as a burndown a week to 10 days before planting conventional soybeans.
Last year, about half their soybeans were Roundup Ready varieties. Planting Roundup Ready beans enables them to control tough weeds such as hemp dogbane, thistle and briars. On those acres, they apply 1 pint of Roundup and 1 pint of 2,4-D ester 10 days before planting. Then 1 quart of Roundup and 1 pint of Broadstrike plus Dual are put on when the soybeans are about 8" high.
The new soybean technology and a rye cover crop enable Tom Spellmire to get his crop in the ground earlier.
"We used to wait until the rye got a foot tall to start planting soybeans around the end of April," Spellmire says. "Now we can plant the soybeans two to three weeks earlier." Spellmire, of Lebanon, OH, plants the Roundup Ready soybeans and follows with 1 quart of Roundup per acre when the rye is about a foot tall.
"Then we get the benefit of early planted beans and a cover crop," says Spellmire. "The rye helps dry the soil when conditions are typically cool and wet in early April."
Increased earthworm populations are a long-term cover-crop benefit, he says.
He and his brother, Bill, plant 1,500 acres of soybeans, 800 acres of corn and 700 of wheat. They started seeding cover crops in 1985 to get more uniform no- till stands. They drill the rye or hire the local co-op to spread it with an air seeder.
Air-spread rye seed is incorporated with a 36' AerWay tool. The seeding rates are 90 lbs per acre on soybean stubble and 112 lbs on cornstalks.
Even though rye is his first cover-crop choice, Spellmire is experimenting with others to provide nitrogen for the corn crop and cut fertilizer costs. He's tried crimson clover seeded underneath sunflowers and also oats.
Spellmire has tried Roundup Ready soybeans as a cover crop, too. After wheat harvest, he applies 1 pint of Roundup to control johnsongrass, shattercane and other problem weeds. Then he seeds a full-season, late Group IV, Roundup Ready soybean variety. He suggests planting a maturity range higher than you normally use.
The soybeans winterkill before flowering or pod set, after fixing nitrogen for the corn crop. However, increased seed costs offset lower fertilizer bills, he says.
With help from a cover crop, Spellmire finds that rented land with historically low yields can be improved in a short time. Combining a cover crop with needed lime boosts yields to 48 bu per acre in three years, he says.