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August 2012 Archive for Ask an Agronomist

RSS By: Farm Journal Agronomists, Farm Journal

Have your agronomic questions answered by a Farm Journal agronomist. E-mail us directly at, and we’ll respond on this blog to provide an interactive dialogue.

Are You Recommending Cover Crops this Fall?

Aug 28, 2012

Question: Are you recommending that farmers plant cover crops this fall?

Answer: In a lot of scenarios, we believe a cover crop could be really useful to farmers this fall. If your corn or soybean crops didn’t yield to their potential this year, you still have an opportunity to plant another crop to increase your soil’s health, minimize erosion and even provide additional forage value. Many fall-planted cover crops, if moisture returns, could provide livestock feed in the spring.

Keith Johnson, Purdue Extension forage specialist, says several small grains and grasses, depending on your geographic region, can be planted in September or October. He suggests choosing some "nitrogen-scavenger" cover crops, which are crops that trap soil nitrates which would otherwise stay in your field or move into groundwater.

A few good nitrogen-hungry cover crops that also provide forage benefits include annual ryegrass, winter rye and winter wheat. These crops can be lightly grazed in the fall if weather conditions favor growth, and there is an expectation to produce more abundant forage the following spring.

Here at Farm Journal, we’re also recommending that farmers consider using radishes and oats, particularly if you haven’t planted cover crops before. They’re easy to work with, and they’ll freeze out over the winter so you won’t have to worry about managing them next spring. Visit the Midwest Cover Crops Council’s website at to access an online cover crop decision tool to see what cover crops are well suited for your region and use.

If you’re seriously considering a cover crop, we would encourage you to line up your cover crop seed supply now as there may be seed shortages. One other thing, consider the type of herbicide you applied to your corn or soybean field earlier this summer. Some herbicides have restrictions because residuals can damage forage crop seeding. Be sure to check your labels and confirm the maximum restriction period has passed.


What Is the Optimum Wheat Seeding Rate?

Aug 15, 2012

Question: What would be the number of seeds per foot at planting to achieve the 600 to 650 plants at harvest ? I farm in southern Ontario Canada I'm on silk-clay, loam soil . I grow a lot of seed corn and some years I put wheat after corn. The only thing different I do is I work the ground with a set of disks and packers then plant. I look forward from hearing from you .

Answer: In your question you said 600-650 plants at harvest. You meant 600-650 heads per square yard, I'm sure.

Obviously the mechanics of obtaining head counts within this ideal range would be to target around 250-300 plants which survive the winter, each with around 2-3 tillers which produce heads. This strategy should provide around 600-650 heads per square yard at harvest.

The number of wheat seeds per square foot or square yard that you need to plant is very dependent on many factors. These factors obviously include seed quality/germination %, planting date (the biggest factor), then the fertility status of the field, if it’s no-till or conventional, the previous crop, plus the brand and condition of the drill/air-seeder, which can have a big impact on stand uniformity.

With all this said, if you start seeding around October 1st around Ridgetown in Southern Ontario for example, I think you can seed around 300 live seeds per square yard (divide by 9 to get square foot), if you have good, conventional tillage conditions with minimal surface residue. If you are no-tilling into heavy surface residue I would bump it an additional 10-25% depending on the volume of material on the soil surface and how well the drill is able to position seeds in the soil.

If your planting date gets delayed until say mid-October, tillering and overall plant development will be reduced on account of the cooler soils, so the seeding rate will need to be raised to compensate for that. So, within this later planting date range, I would suggest seeding around 350 live seeds within conventional soils, bumping it another 10-25% as previously outlined for no-till.

I would also recommend placing P in the row at seeding time and remember, you can fine-tune your tiller densities/head counts by manipulating the N rates and timings in the early spring.

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