Precision Cover Crops Bring Savings

September 25, 2018 08:12 AM
Tim Recker slashes cover crop seed costs in half: “Precision planting is the way to make sure all the cover benefits fall in line. No system is perfect, but this is getting pretty close.”

Corn is out and Tim Recker is in, planting cereal rye and cutting his cover crop seed costs in half. The Iowa farmer shuns a drill or broadcast, and opts for the precision of a planter and metered cereal rye. Precision, seed to soil contact, savings and a beautiful green carpet.

Farming in Fayette County, almost a three-hour drive northeast of Des Moines, Recker cuts seed costs by 50 percent and uses an interplanter on 15” rows. All told, Recker estimates $10 per acre in total planting costs. The results? “I didn’t invent it, but the system is just incredible. It works really, really well in my ground and looks like a lawn after seeding.”

Recker began experimenting with cover crops in 2012, searching for the best fit and management for his ground. He says nothing compares with the efficiency of metered cereal rye and he hopes to plant 560 acres in 2018. “I’ll put my fields against anybody. Precision planting is the way to make sure all the cover benefits fall in line. No system is perfect, but this is getting pretty close.”

In 2014, Recker’s farming neighbor, Tim Burrack, wanted to switch 30”-row soybeans to 15” rows, and traded for a 1790 John Deere interplanter, capable of handling either setup. The 1790 vacuum metered planter came standard with corn and soybean discs, but Burrack and Recker had a shared eye on cover crops. “Critics can say the planter is a $120,000 machine and too expensive. But everyone needs a planter anyhow, and this one covers 40’ and loads of acres,” Recker says. “Any interplanter can basically work, but we’ve done well with this one.”


After buying an extra disc specific to cereal rye from SeedRight, both producers say the overall planting system has been transformative. “I tried spinning covers with fertilizer, interseeding in standing corn and other things as well, but this is the way to go on my operation. When I get that seed to soil contact, I don’t have to worry about the typically dry months of August or September,” Recker explains.

As soon as seed corn comes off, Recker immediately grabs the available planting window, prior to removal of commercial corn and soybeans. “I start with seed corn because I don’t wait for things to stack up. Timing is a big reason a lot of other guys up here haven’t adopted covers, but cereal rye is different than people think. I planted some last year in November and it worked great.”

Using RTK, Recker places cereal rye in the same A-B lines used for his corn crop, generally with a 25 lb. per acre seed rate, roughly half the standard 50-55 lb. recommendation. Recker hopes to plant 560 acres of cereal rye in 2018, and the savings is significant on $13 per pound seed. “I think the recommendations are outrageously high because most guys don’t use seed to soil contact. Fly on 80 lb. ahead of a big rain and you’ll end up with a mat thick enough to cause real problems. Break the numbers down and you can pay $20 per acre or $7 my way. I don’t care about going after cost-share, but I want what works best on my ground.”

“Eyeballing it, the cereal rye looks like a lawn and fills in so well. You can plant a quarter-inch deep or half-inch deep, according to your moisture. The spacing is a picket fence, but it doesn’t have to be. All for no more cost than if you’re using a drill.”

In spring, Recker doesn’t terminate before planting green. He jumps over 7.5”, straddles the rye row, and plants down the middle with corn or soybeans. Pared down, he never moves a rye plant and always plants in black dirt. “It is something of beauty and flat-out works great,” he contends.

Backing up Recker’s enthusiasm with far more than words, Burrack planted 1,600 acres of cereal rye in 2017. “Money. The biggest reason I plant cereal rye this way has to do with money,” Burrack explains. “Covers have radically altered the way I farm. I’m close to retirement, but after 46 years I’m totally changing the way I farm.”


“The difference in soil erosion when it rains hard is huge and the root growth is building organic matter.  Cereal rye is actually another regular crop for me because it is my soil nutrition crop,” Burrack adds.

All tallied, Recker estimates cover crops cost him just under $20 per acre. Specifically, what does he get in return? Since 2014, Recker has watched soybean yields jump 5-7 bu. every year (excluding a negligible bump in 2017), an increase he attributes entirely to cover crops. Even bigger, according to Recker, is a tremendous leap in erosion control. “The difference is awesome. No more scraping with a Caterpillar all over my operation for a week. By itself, that sold me on covers. No more moving soil or rebuilding waterways.”

From Recker’s perspective, precision planting cover crops is a “no-brainer” that requires a change in mindset. “Everyone has their own comfort level with cover crops and I can only say what works on my ground. But for me, precision cereal rye is very worthy and year after year, the results are awesome.”

For more, see:

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Blood And Dirt: A Farmer's 30-Year Fight With The Feds

Seeds of Discord: Crossing the Great Cover Crop Divide

Living the Dream: Honoring A Fallen Farmer

Cover Crop Bandwagon Frustrates Farmers

Corn’s Carbon Cowboy Busts Outstanding Yields

Pigs Don’t Fly: Feral Hog Spread Is A Man-Made Mess

Jimmy Frederick Booms 163 Bu. Soybeans

Meet The Father of Six-Row Corn

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