PRESTON, Minn. – Aaron Gillespie is committed to experimentation on his farm, to the point that he has dedicated 7 acres for new techniques and crops. Recently he’s been working with cover crops and regenerative farming methods on his southeastern-Minnesota farms that include 1,000 acres of organic and 200 acres of conventional crops.
Those crop acres grow corn, beans, oats, alfalfa, canning peas, rye and cover crops for rotation on his farms. Along with that Gillespie has 300 acres of pasture for his 100 beef cows and 25 ewes. He’s proud this past fall 75 percent of his acres had a root in the ground after corn and beans were harvested, which he achieved by using interseeding.
He predicts he will have 85 percent of his land covered mostly with a rye-mix plow down. The experimental acreage was frost-seeded with 10 to 15 pounds red clover and 100 pounds of rye per acre. He grazed it spring and fall, and was able to harvest the rye grain. Although he had a problem with foxtail in the rye, the clover overtook it.
Another trial he did was planting 35 acres of 60-inch corn; 7 acres were planted into grazed clover. Rows spaced 60 inches apart prevented the corn canopy from shading out interseeded plants needed for non-chemical weed control. He planted three fields at different times using different techniques.
The first field was strip-tilled, which didn’t do well because of uncooperative weather. Experience tells Gillespie that no-till would have been a better choice for this past year. The interseeding wasn’t done early enough to be effective and foxtail became a problem, so he mowed it with a Bush Hog. That smothered his interseeding.
The 60-inch corn was planted with an in-row population of 60,000 corn seeds per acre. He expected final harvest stands to yield between 55,000 to 60,000 plants. He achieved that planting by use of a precision planter that allowed him to skip rows. His biggest regret was with weed control.
“I didn’t modify a cultivator for 60-inch corn,” he said. “Where there’s no corn, the weeds grow good.”
Lack of canopy in the absent rows spurred the weeds. Although weed control is better in the 60-inch corn he expected a yield of 200 bushels, about the same as the 30-inch rows. After combining one field of 60-inch, it yielded 20 bushels more than the 30-inch rows; another field had 10 bushels more.
Varieties used for interseeding between the 60-inch rows were cowpeas, forage radish, German millet, kale, red clover and fixation clover – all at a rate of 15 pounds per acre and at a cost of $20 per acre. Gillespie said he thinks it was planted too late, June 8, and the stand didn’t do well.
One field was a mix of 30-inch and 60-inch rows. Where he planted bands of 30-inch, 60-inch, 30-inch, Gillespie used a 45,000 in-row seed count.
The 30-inch corn had a population of 34,000 seeds on 500 acres of organic corn that he rotary-hoed twice and cultivated twice, covering all his acreage once a week during the first month of the growing season. He followed with interseeding that consisted of red clover, frosty berseem clover, purple top turnips and zero kale at 6 pounds per acre. He said interseeding can be difficult in those acres because of the timing.
Interseeding between the 30-inch corn was done with a one-shank 12-row cultivator modified with deflector plates and a Valmar seeder.
“Grasses are what kill out corn and interseeding,” he said. “I need to figure out the right combination. I think it has a huge potential.”
Gillespie’s advice for those new to cover crops is to plant rye. Never mind how late it is in the fall, he thinks the important thing is starting – especially for grazing. Once farmers have a cover crop in the ground and can see what it does for tilth, water infiltration and worms, he believes they’ll be convinced of the value.
LeeAnne Bulman writes about agriculture from her farm overlooking the beautiful Danuser Valley on Wisconsin’s west coast. When not writing she helps her husband on their small grain and beef farm.