A strategy of combining several different species in the cover crop in his no-till corn and soybean program is allowing Russell Hedrick of Hickory, N.C., to maximize the benefit he gets from the cover crop.

He has devised a mixed species “blend” of five different plants: cereal rye, triticale, oats, crimson clover and Daikon radishes. The goal is to create a cover that is well suited to the needs of his Piedmont soils.

The benefits he hopes to derive, in addition to limiting soil erosion, are to suppress winter annual weeds, scavenge excess nutrients from the preceding cash crop, and to improve the biological health of the soil. He also gets a rotational benefit from planting cool-season grasses and legumes after corn and soybeans.

Russell Hedrick“We get a lot better soil moisture retention with the blend, and the clover provides quite a bit of free nitrogen,” Hedrick said. “The cover crop itself is 100 percent a scavenger crop. We apply no fertilizer to it at all.”

He plants the cover crop using a no-till drill behind a tractor after he harvests his corn or soybeans. “We will let the blend grow to 36 to 48 inches in height, and then we will take an old cultipacker and roll it down,” he said. “That makes a 2-inch thick mat, which helps with weed control in the cash crop. The summer weeds can't come through that mat.”

He seeds at a rate per acre of 30 pounds of cereal rye, five pounds of crimson clover, 10 pounds of oats, 10 pounds of triticale and three pounds of radishes.