A strategy for killing cover crops with tillage

Farmers looking to incorporate cover crops into rotation are often left with the issue of terminating the crop. Is spraying enough? If you need to work the ground, what’s the best option?

To tackle that question, Ontario field editor Bern Tobin asks Pat Lynch, agronomist and Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show tillage demo host, about tillage options for cover crop killing.

The first and most important point, Lynch says, is to park the plow. It’s overkill for what you’re trying to accomplish and means you’ll run over that field far more times than you need. Instead, aim to leave at least 30 per cent residue on the surface and work the balance into the top two to four inches of soil.

Moving that organic matter into the top few inches of soil means it will begin to break down, driving all those helpful biological processes, and creating channels for water infiltration. A combination of herbicide(s), conservation tillage, and time will get you where you need to go on weed control and weed seed bank reduction, while making sure you start with a dead cover crop.

“I want it dead,” Lynch says, to give the intended corn or other crop the best start possible.

Lynch says that too often tillage has become that something for someone to do, as opposed to a strategic and focused pass. “Every pass must have a real purpose,” he says. And you don’t need to buy every piece of iron either — talk to your dealer, or other farmers, about what is working for them and demo, rent, or hire equipment to do the job before you commit the dollars, Lynch says.

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