Drilling cover crops can take time after a harvest, but Max Pitt is working on a way to make things more efficient.
Pitt, an agricultural business professor at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, is using funding to work with a prototype he has trademarked as the Drill Combine.
If this technology is able to take off, he hopes farmers will be able to use it to efficiently add more conservation to their operations.
“Farmers are our best soil conservationists,” Pitt said. “One of our objectives is to get their operating costs down. They want their soil to be conserved and be as healthy as possible in the process.”
The Drill Combine works just as the name suggests. As the combine rolls through a field, a driller attached to the back of the machine is putting cover crop seed into the ground.
This proved to be especially effective in the first year of testing in 2019, as there were multiple harvest delays that saw some people picking soybeans well into November. While harvesting soybeans at the Graceland test plot, Pitt was using the attached driller to put rye seed in the ground for an overwinter cover crop. This spring, the rye had an estimated stand between 600,000 and 800,000 plants per acre, across the more than 40 acres on the test plot.
James Holz, who works with Iowa Cover Crop in Jefferson, Iowa, said he has seen some information about this machine on social media. While he hasn’t seen this in person, he said he thinks this is an idea that could take off if it’s effective.
“I think it’s a got a great opportunity,” Holz said. “Anytime you can do something in one pass it’s a great opportunity.”
The Drill Combine is owned by Holness Investments, and Pitt has worked with the Iowa Department of Agriculture, Montag Equipment and Sunco Farm Equipment going into its second year.
The major equipment change Pitt noted going from 2019 to 2020 is going to double disc openers provided by Sunco from the previous single disc rig they were using previously.
“I went out and found the most affordable disc openers I could find, which were some single disc openers from old John Deere drills,” Pitt said. “It worked, but this year will be a major enhancement.”
Pitt also noted they are adding three feet on each side of the toolbar this year, making it 21-feet wide, allowing them to not put any discs by the header of the combine.
Pitt is also planning to incorporate pennycress in this year’s trials, which will go into three to five acres of harvested corn. He’s also interested in trying out camelina, but he doesn’t have enough education on it yet.
“(Pennycress) isn’t an ideal solution for something farther north because of the shorter season,” Pitt said. “It needs to have more warmth for it to grow and produce to be harvested in April or early May, then be able to turn around and plant corn or soybeans yet.”
Not wasting time in the field is important to farmers, especially during harvest season. Pitt said one of his ‘pie-in-the-sky’ goals is to be able to have a box that would only need to be filled once for the field behind the combine.
This year’s crop issues throughout the Midwest, from drought to low commodity prices and the recent derecho that blew through Iowa and Illinois, might have farmers looking to limit their production costs. That could impact those looking at cover crops, but Holz said there are plenty of options for customers out there.
“I think the real progressive farmers find value in it and they want to protect the soil and water,” he said. “Any of those added benefits like the weed suppression, more organic matter into their soil, people can easily see the value in it.”
While Pitt is using this for cover crop drilling, he said this might lead to potential equipment variations in the future for those who are able to plant a double-crop of soybeans or corn in conditions primarily found further south.
“I don’t know if the Drill Combine is the tool that accomplishes that, but there are other efforts going on,” he said.