Seeding cover crops just got easier, cheaper

Why plant cover crops after harvest when you can plant them at harvest? The Horsch Partner seed spreader was tested for the first time this year, planting rye as a cover crop.
|  Drago Indiana photo

There are benefits to seeding a cover crop after combining in the fall, then chemical burning and direct seeding into it in the spring.

Cover crops can reduce erosion, increase the concentration of potassium at the soil surface, tie up nitrogen in the spring that may become available to the following crop, provide biomass and suppress problem weeds.

Yet it remains difficult for some growers to swallow the extra expense and time around harvest to seed a crop that may not provide an immediate financial return.

To help reduce the cost of seeding cover crops, Drago Indiana, a short-line equipment dealer near Indianapolis, Indiana, has come up with a solution that could help growers use more cover crops.

The company installed a Horsch Partner on the back of its Claas combine and can now combine and seed a winter cereal at the same time.

“We mounted it behind and up above the chopper on the back of the combine. We’re blowing cover crop seed to the corn head. So it’s got one big hose going up to the corn head and then from there it distributes out and has smaller hoses that go out, basically right at the snouts. So before the stock rolls or anything touches it, we’re blowing that seed out on potentially bare soil,” said Brent Michael, who works at Drago Indiana.

The combine then threshes out the crop and blows crop residue over the seeded field.

This was the first year the combine seeder was used, but Michael said rye cover crop has come up nicely.

“I would say not all of it emerged this fall, but definitely by next spring we will get a full picture of everything that emerged underneath the trash and whatnot,” he said.

The structure of the back of the combine was reinforced by one of the company’s welders, who tied into the main lifting points of the combine that are used to move it around the factory when it’s manufactured.

The Partner was plumbed into the combine’s hydraulic system to power its fan, and its control box was installed in the cab.

The Horsch Partner is sold in Europe and is most often used for fertilizer. It attached to tractors by a three-point hitch, and operators pull various tillage tools behind it.

“The seeder is no wider than what the box of the combine is, and is shorter than what the auger sticks out,” Michael said. “You can’t feel extra weight on the back, can’t tell the difference between full or empty.”

Michael said the Partner holds about 80 bushels of rye seed, so he only has to fill it up twice a day when combining.

“Our Lexion, all it does is corn acres, so we used this on 3,000 acres of corn last year. We used a Drago folding 12 row, so we didn’t have to hook or unhook any seed tubes or anything,” Michael said.

The modification proved to be a big time saver, and it won’t take long for it to pay for itself because it saves a pass across the field during a busy time of year.

“It saves a tractor, a tool and an operator, and fuel. It took no extra fuel to run this,” Michael said.

“Under our normal conditions, if you’re at 15 bucks an acre for planting a cover crop, it’s going to pay for itself in a year.”

Michael said the Horsch Partner cost about US$35,000 and another $7,500 to mount it on the combine. He said he thinks most combines could be fit with the Partner.

“I can’t see that it couldn’t be fit on any combine, one way or another.”

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