No more ‘formula farming’

Andy and Mitch Hoenhause’s success with cover crops has encouraged the Lisbon, N.D., brothers to try some new ways to get the cover crops planted on more of their acres.

After harvesting field peas or winter wheat, they usually broadcast or drill cover crops into the stubble. There’s plenty of time for the cover crops to emerge and put on a lot of growth before a freeze. But often it is too late to seed cover crops that way after harvesting soybeans or corn. Instead, they have used a spinner spreader and an airplane to spread cover crop seed into growing soybeans and corn.

Key Points

The Hoenhauses are trying to get cover crops on more of their acres.

They are trying to seed cover crops into growing corn and soybeans.

The brothers focus on managing soil health, not crops.

Seeding over soybeans

Broadcasting seed into growing soybeans has worked pretty well, Andy says. When soybeans begin maturing, their leaves fall off, covering up the seed on the soil surface and improving the seed-to-soil contact. More sunlight also begins to reach the ground as the leaves drop. With a little moisture, the cover crop seed germinates well before soybean harvest.

No-tilling and planting cover crops has forced the Hoenhauses to change their overall approach to crop production.

“We used to have a set of practices that we followed to produce a crop. We chisel-plowed, cultivated, spread fertilizer, cultivated, planted and sprayed,” Andy says. “Now, we don’t have a rigid formula to follow. We work the opportunities that the weather and land provide.”

The Hoenhause brothers don’t think of farming solely as managing crops anymore. “We’re managing soil health,” Andy says.

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BIO BENEFITS: Adding cover crops to a rotation doesn’t mean more residue, according to Andy (left) and Mitch Hoenhause. A cover crop increases biological activity in the soil and breaks down residue faster. Note the lack of residue in their corn in this photo taken last year.

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CARRYING CAPACITY: Andy Hoenhause watches the fill gauge on their sprayer as they prepare to spray corn. Cover crops have improved the soil’s structure and, in turn, its ability to carry the weight of field equipment, he says.

This article published in the April, 2012 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.