This tip comes from Mace Bauer, Extension Agent in Columbia County, Florida.
“In past years one of our farmers sometimes ran into problems maintaining soil moisture where he was planting into a cover crop,” Bauer says. “If dry weather struck before terminating the cover, he tended to lose moisture in the planting strip. If he went ahead and planted into drier soil, emergence might be poor. If he waited for more rain, that often forced him to plant beyond his targeted date.”
But auto steering gave him another option. He could spray the intended planting strip only. That eliminated the moisture-draining effect of cover crops in the seed zone.
“In this system the cover crop in row middles can grow several more weeks, so the farmer gains the benefits of higher biomass production,” Bauer points out. “If conditions warrant, the farmer can still jump out and terminate the row middles. But holding back on spraying the middles also means the cover crop is still present to suppress weeds and mulch soil.”
That’s particularly important where heinous weeds like Roundup-resistant pigweed are present, he adds.
Bauer’s farmers grow crops in a part of the country noted for an abundance of light to sandy soils, so this precision approach might be likened to having your cake and eating it, too. It retains moisture to germinate seed and foster emergence but also allow the cover crop to continue growing and contribute to organic matter production. Weed suppression is the icing on the cake.
In particular, weed scientists in neighboring Georgia have shown that a good cover cropping system is a sure way to keep pigweed at bay.
“In north Florida and into south Georgia, soil moisture management in the spring is often the difference between success and failure in rain-fed farming systems,” Bauer says. “And weed resistance is a reality, as well. So, this grower’s system gives him a way to preserve moisture and hold back weeds. It’s a good use of technology that many people might not have considered.”