Humboldt, Tenn., no-tiller Matthew Griggs shared some other real-world insights about no-tilling cash crops green on his operation. Griggs no-tills cotton, cereal grains, corn and soybeans on 1,600 rolling acres in western Tennessee.
1 Be Patient. “One thing I found is cover crops will magnify any weather problem you have following planting,” Griggs says. “If it’s cool and wet after planting in a no-till situation, it’s going to be even more cool and wet with a cover crop.
“One way I’ve mitigated that is waiting to plant. In a lot of cases I’m planting two weeks later than my neighbors because I’m waiting for a window for favorable conditions. Getting that seed established the first time is extremely critical.”
He’s usually dealing with wet ground in April and May but says he can now plant in good conditions even after an inch of rain the previous day because excess moisture is removed.
2 Be Flexible. No-tillers need to pay attention to the weather ahead of planting to know when to terminate cover crops and avoid drying out fields too much to endangering germination.
In a dry spring, “you might want to think about terminating early rather than planting green,” Griggs notes. “While cover crops can pull a lot of moisture out of the soil, if you don’t get a rain they’ll dry out the soil too much and there’s no moisture in the top inch or two of soil.”
3 Go Deep. Griggs says he’s had more problems planting cotton into green cover crops than with corn or soybeans because cotton comes late in the rotation when there’s more biomass in the way. Cotton seed can’t be planted too deep because it doesn’t have enough push to get out of the ground, he says.
Griggs addresses this by planting cotton, along with soybeans, 1½ inches deep and corn at 2 inches deep or more.
“You won’t have to worry about soil crusting over with cover crops. You’ve got too many roots in the ground,” he says. “If you think about a planter, the deeper you plant a seed, the bigger your seed slot’s going to be and the more easy that seed is going to go in the ground without the cover crop interfering with it.”
4 Pay Attention. Being attentive at planting sounds obvious, but subtle changes in field conditions can affect stands.
“I get out of the tractor every 30 minutes to make sure I’m still putting seed in the ground and make sure, in that 30 minutes, that the ground hasn’t dried out because then I might need to adjust down pressure,” he says.
5 Be Flexible. Griggs says last year’s very mild winter taught him an important lesson about being flexible with his planting game plan. Because cover crops never shut down, when May arrived his cover crops were 2 weeks more advanced than normal. Gusty spring storms laid tornado-like waste to his vetch and cereal rye, making it difficult to terminate with his roller-crimper.
“I should have terminated earlier, but I didn’t and it was very difficult planting and a lot of my neighbors experienced the same thing. A lot of my neighbors were ready to give up on cover crops after last year, but it was a valuable learning experience to show me that I need to have multiple plans,” he says.