ELBERON — Organic farmer Todd Banes took no-till cover crop agriculture to the next level this month when he planted soybeans directly into a field of dense, 4-foot-tall cereal rye.
He did it in a single pass with a roller-crimper planter attachment that flattens and kills the rye just before the planter drops soybean seeds into the barely exposed soil.
“The beans are just pushing through the soil,” Banes said Friday, six days after planting the seeds. “I think it’s working pretty well.”
Weed control and soil nourishment are two of the biggest challenges for organic farmers, who cannot rely on chemicals for those critical functions, Banes said.
“With this, you have a one-shot deal that’s good for both weed control and increasing organic matter in the soil,” said Banes, who switched to organic farming in 2002 and has been heavily invested in cover crops for the last 10 years.
The no-till and cover crop combination also conserves soil moisture, protects the soil from erosion and inhibits runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous into surface water, he said.
Brent Schlenker of Malcom, who owns the equipment used to kill the rye and plant the beans, said the system benefits farmers and people who appreciate good water quality.
With widespread adoption by farmers, the system would accelerate achievement of goals under the state’s nutrient reduction strategy, he said.
Joe Bassett, CEO of Sycamore, Ill.-based Dawn Equipment, the manufacturer of the roller-crimper, was on hand to make sure the machine’s initial use in Iowa went well.
With farmers engaged in limiting the nutrients that run off their fields, cover crops are going to be “big business,” he said.
While the roller-crimper is especially well-suited for organic farmers, saving them several trips across the field, it offers advantages to conventional farmers as well, Bassett said.
They can get by with less herbicide, and they will save at least one trip across the field, he said.
Banes seeded the 30-acre field to rye Oct. 25, shortly after he harvested a crop of soybeans. He planted about eight bushels per acre — about four times the normal rate — to maximize biomass.
“It barely grew last fall, but it really took off this spring,” he said.
The roller-crimper, which bolts on to the front of the planter, completely killed the rye, preventing it from regrowing and competing with his soybeans for water and nutrients, Banes said.
“You need to wait for the rye to head out to ensure a clean kill,” he said.