Hartway Farms in Albion, NY is a small-scale, no-till operation, where the Hartway family grows pumpkins, corn and soybeans on 325 acres of primarily sandy loam soils.
Cultivating land that had previously been pasture for about 20 years, Jake and Nate Hartway had the benefit of starting out with healthy soils, but it wasn’t soil health that initially drew them to no-till and cover cropping. As part-time farmers with off-farm jobs, Jake and Nate were drawn to no-till as a way to be able to farm successfully without all the time-consuming chores involved in traditional farming, allowing them to deal with the time constraints that come along with juggling on and off farm responsibilities. Since they started cover cropping in 2012, the two brothers have gained plenty of insight into aerial broadcasting, interseeding and cover crop mixes that work for their schedules, crops and soil type.
In 2014, they decided to try their hand at interseeding a 3-way mix of tillage radish, white dutch clover and annual ryegrass into their corn, soybean and pumpkin crops. After an application of dry potash and liquid nitrogen and potassium, they hired Jesse Farwell of Triple F Flying Inc. to aerial broadcast the mixture at a rate of 26lbs/acre in June 2014. While the annual ryegrass and white clover did relatively well, germination of the tillage radish, a cover crop with lower shade tolerance, was poor. Overall, the low spots in their field germinated better than higher ground, and interseeding in their pumpkins, which did not shade out the cover crop was more successful than their soybean and corn. While Jake and Nate had good results with a tillage radish and pea mixture that was broadcast that same year following harvest of a barley crop, they felt the process of interseeding via aerial broadcasting was unsuccessful primarily because of shading due to improper timing and poor establishment of seed in the soil. The following spring, they used glyphosate and Verdict to burndown the 3-way mix cover crop about two weeks prior to spring planting.
Taking the information they gained in 2014, the Hartway's attempted aerial broadcast interseeding again this past September with a few changes. Rather than using the same 3-way mix on all of their crops, Jake and Nate used a vetch and annual ryegrass mix on their soybeans, white clover and annual ryegrass on corn, and experimented with using cereal rye on their pumpkins.
In the future, Jake and Nate intend to experiment with interseeding their corn earlier in the season (v4 or v5) to allow for better germination prior to heavy shading from the more established corn crop. Additionally, they want to incorporate small grains and diversify their cash crop rotations, with an emphasis on crops that can be harvested earlier in the season allowing for better cover crop germination before the frost. They’d also like to try modified methods of their current cover crop application plan, using on-the-ground machinery to incorporate the cover crop into the soil after broadcasting, which should help germination in their sandy soils, which they feel may not be ideal for aerial broadcasting methods alone. They stress that it’s important to wait until the following spring to really judge how a cover crop did, saying that even something that looks like it’ll perform poorly in the Fall could pop up when the temperatures break the following Spring, providing the benefit of a good amount of organic matter for your soils.
Though they don’t feel they’ve had any “big wins” with cover cropping thus far, they’ve had the success of starting to understand what they needs to do to maintain or improve the health of their soil on a schedule that works for them, allowing the Hartway's to produce good yields for years to come.
Jesse Farwell of Triple F Flying Inc. can be reached at 507-854-3123.