Any farmer who implements a successful cover crop rotation on their farm knows that perfect timing is vital. There are tips and tricks needed to ensure that the field transition from one crop to another is smooth and on time.
If you’re not one of those farmers who already know it all, fear not! We’ve hashed out a quick guide to show you how easy it is to transition to cover crops after soybeans. We’ll cover a method that works for many of the most popular cover crops including oats, rye and other grasses.
First things first, you need to start by monitoring your soybeans carefully around harvest. The key to good timing is to know exactly what state your crops are in and when. Don’t just rely on data from other farmers or the average growth times. Get out there are monitor your crops yourself!
The optimum time to start seeding your cover crops is actually before you harvest the soybeans. So, this means that you need to be seeding, then harvesting, then letting the remaining soybeans mulch down to give nutritious soil to the cover crop. It’s important that you do things in this order so that you don’t waste time. If you time this right, there should be no gap between soybean harvested and mulched, and cover crop germination and growth.
The perfect time to plant your cover crops is when about 10% to 20% of the leaves on the soybean plants are already on the ground. Any more than that and you start to limit the seed to soil contact.
If you’re going to be using your seeder machine to plant the cover crop, make sure that you follow in the tracks already in-between the soybeans. This will minimize damage to your existing crop and ensure that your yield doesn’t decrease.
A better way to plant your cover crops is from the air. Some drones are specifically designed to do this with immaculate precision. You can calibrate them to the right seed depth and alignment for precision agriculture style seeding.
If drones are a bit out of your budget, there are companies you can hire to do the aerial seeding for you from airplanes. If you don’t have the expertise and knowledge to do this yourself, it’s often worth spending a little money to have the experts get it done right first time!
The best cover crops to grow amongst your soybeans are grasses as they are hardy and frost resistant. Of course, you can still go for frost sensitive cover crops, but you may want to seed them even earlier than this method so they are protected by the standing soybeans and begin germination in a slightly kinder climate.
Whichever cover crop you choose, make sure it fits into your overall crop rotation scheme, not just your soybean field. One last thing; be prepared for spring-time herbicides if your cover crops overwinter!