Now that many of us are no-tilling our crops with a goal of continuous no-till, we need to rethink some of our traditional practices.
We know that residues serve many beneficial functions in addition to protecting the soil and preventing erosion.
Whether from cover crops, manure or plant fodder, residues add fertility and organic matter, and help no-till soils develop improved soil structure, increasing infiltration and moisture conservation.
Uneven residues and runaway cover crops, though, can cause significant planting challenges. These include uneven plant emergence, less-than-desired plant populations, increased insect and slug pressure, herbicide tie-up, and soils that are cooler and wetter than tilled fields.
Below are some basic suggestions and recommendations:
• Read and learn about no-till farming concepts. Join the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance. Subscribe to a no-till magazine. Attend a no-till workshop.
• Start with a uniform field. Whether manure, fodder or cover crop, you cannot properly set up a planter if field residue conditions vary significantly.
• Terminate the cover crop in a timely manner. Ten days prior to planting is a must for beginners. As you gain experience, consider planting green to maximize residue.
• Glyphosate alone is often not the best burndown herbicide. Add 2,4-D or another phenoxy herbicide for mixes with legumes.
• Cover crop mixes which include ryegrass can be particularly difficult to control. Be sure to use the maximum labeled rate of glyphosate and include ammonium sulfate.
• Daytime air temperature should be 55 degrees or greater when you make the application.
• Maintain or upgrade your planting equipment and learn how to adjust it for various conditions.
• Set row cleaners so they part enough residue for the planting units to do a good job — and no more. Plant 1.5 inches deep in cool, wet ground, or 2 inches as soils warm and dry out.
• Close the seed trench completely without compacting the sidewalls. Consider a Martin (spading) or Schlagel (Posi-Close) type of system if your soils have a lot of clay or lay wet.
• Even in high fertility soils consider a small amount of nitrogen, or nitrogen plus phosphorus, pop-up fertilizer. This will help achieve rapid, uniform emergence.
• Scout fields for slugs, cutworms, armyworms and other pests. Have a plan to treat as needed.
Learn by experience. Record what works and share your knowledge with a neighbor.