Sussex Conservation District
“I currently farm 650 acres of corn and soybeans which have been “never-tilled” for 25 years. It’s my goal to plant cover crops on all 650 acres. I do rotate my crops and use various multi-species blends of cover crops depending on next year’s crop. My goal is to have the ground covered all year round.”
Baker says he was persuaded to try cover crops in large part by the No-Till Farmer magazine and talking with Ray Archuleta at a field day in Pennsylvania. “After meeting Ray, I knew this was the way to go,” he told NACD.
He started by aerial seeding radishes about seven years ago, and while they worked very well, he started experimenting with mixes after a year – starting with radishes, crimson clover, and annual ryegrass. The second year he used cover, he seeded triticale, crimson clover, and radishes. “I am now experimenting with the timing by planting early with the Sussex Conservation District’s air seeder. This year I planted cover crops on a smaller field in June when the corn was knee high with a recommended mix of Austrian winter peas, oats, radishes, and sunflowers. The jury is still out on this trial,” he said.
August 1st, Baker interseeded a four way mix of majority cereal rye and hairy vetch (which will stick around all winter long), as well as crimson clover and radishes with Sussex CD’s air seeder. “The goal is to get the cover crop established early to take advantage of the longer grower degree days,” he noted. “I have found by planting a variety of mixes, I have increased yields, soil tilth, and organic matter while decreasing my input costs on herbicides and fertilizers.”
Baker tried aerial seeding radishes into soybeans, but doesn’t recommend it. “I had a great stand of radishes, but because of weather conditions, I wasn’t able to harvest the beans early. I had a gooey mess trying to harvest,” he said. Now, he seeds clover or plant cereal rye after the soybeans, helping to build the nitrogen in the soil for the next corn crop.
Bakers says he’s run into two challenges using soil health practices: weather and chemicals. “The chemical challenge is to find the right chemical to suppress weeds, but not harm cover crops,” he says. “I have changed my whole herbicide program by changing the chemical I used and then only used half rates on the fields that I was going to plant cover crops early. I found that whether I was planting extra early or not, I still needed to change the chemical because of the carryover. The weather in Delaware presents a challenge to cover crops planted after soybeans to use anything other than the crimson clover or cereal rye.”