Jeff Toussaint of Toussaint Farms in Ridgeway, NY grows corn, soybeans and wheat on approximately 1,200 acres using a variety of cover crop and reduced/no-till methods. Toussaint Farms had been frost seeding Red Clover in wheat for many years prior to Jeff attending his first National No-Till Conference nearly 14 years ago. Since then, Jeff has incorporated winter cover cropping into their family farm, recently moving into experimenting with interseeding a variety of cover crops into his corn and soybean fields. He has returned to the National No-Till Conference nearly every year.
Toussaint Farms currently practices no-till as much as possible, occasionally using vertical tillage if necessary when breaking new ground. Prior to their transition to reduced/no-till, they used conventional tillage. The struggle of working their heavy soils with conventional tillage would eventually be the turning point for Jeff, who became frustrated with the amount of time and fuel he was putting into multiple trips working increasingly difficult soils.
In the last two years, Jeff has really begun to thoroughly explore and experiment with interseeding. He has had successes and failures, all of which have served as a learning opportunity. He began in 2014, by interseeding both his corn and soybean crop.
In 2014 Jeff interseeded 35 acres of corn with 120 lbs of Triticale using a Vicon broadcast spreader. It was generally successful but revealed certain limitations:
Germination was good, but getting a good spread pattern was difficult as seeding should have been done at the 4-5 leaf stage rather than the 6-7 leaf stage.
The stand held up well throughout the growing season, but faded out some when harvest was delayed into December.
On the plus side, there was no yield loss detected from the interseeding.
His 2014 soybean trial was less successful and proved a valuable learning experience. Using a borrowed Rogator with air seeder attachment, Jeff applied a 3-way mix of tillage radish, crimson clover and triticale mixed with dry nitrogen as a side dress to 50 acres of soybeans. The cover crop was applied in mid-August. While they had good germination, the seedlings began to die off shortly thereafter. It seemed that the combination of light deprivation and residual herbicide damage both played a part in the loss of stand. While some of the triticale survived, much of the radish and clover were lost.
Taking what he learned the previous year, Jeff went into 2015 with refined interseeding plans. He used Verdict in his pre-emergence weed spray to offer some residual weed control. The Verdict seems to not have a long carryover so that the interseeding to follow was not affected. His corn field was interseeded with annual ryegrass and tillage radish in mid-June using a homemade Gandy air seeder at a seeding rate of 15lbs/acre. His germination this time was much improved from the previous year, though likely would have been better if it had been applied earlier in the season, when the corn was smaller (4-5 leaf). While Jeff had a successful experience with annual ryegrass, he warns that it’s important to not “go cheap on ryegrass”, and to make sure it’s acquired through a reputable supplier. “Variety Not Specified” or VNS annual ryegrass can be problematic as the success of annual ryegrass in a particular region really depends heavily on that variety being appropriate for your specific climate. He warns that using an annual ryegrass variety that is not compatible to your environment may mean lackluster germination and wasted money, or a cover crop that is difficult to kill in the spring.
Jeff’s soybean interseeding with Triticale in September 2015 also turned out to be successful. He again used the homemade Gandy broadcast seeder, applying 115 lbs/acre to his soybean fields just before leaf drop. His only struggle with this trial was that interseeding in September meant that the soybean plants at the end of each row, which were run over by the broadcast seeder, did not bounce back as they would have if they were younger plants.
Jeff considers his biggest successes to be the use of a 3-way mix of crimson clover, annual ryegrass and tillage radish. Each provides something different, leaving in their wake a healthier, more diversified soil that will continue to produce sustained or even improved yields, in the future. He has seen no yield reduction with interseeding in the last two years and by using cover crops and rotating his crops, he has been able to reduce the amount of applied nitrogen. Jeff’s frustrations and failures have primarily involved finding the appropriate timing to interseed, ensuring that the cover crop does not compete with the main crop, but can still get enough sunlight to germinate and grow. He continues to work on understanding appropriate timing, controlling and reducing residual impacts of herbicides on cover crops and on maintaining an appropriate amount of organic residue on his fields. Jeff uses crop yields and sufficient ground cover as indicators of how he should be moving forward in coming seasons.
In 2014, Toussaint Farms’ corn/soybean rotation fields yielded 10 bushels/acre more than their continuous corn fields. Corn planted to fields that were previously cover cropped yielded 27 bushels/acre more than their corn/soybean fields, totally 37 bushels/acre more than their continuous corn fields.
In 2015, first planting of corn following a cover cropped field (crimson clover) yielded 5 bushels/acre more than the corn planted into new fields without prior cover cropping. First planting corn after crimson clover cover crop yielded 39 bushels/acre more than continuous corn fields.