Conservation Tillage Systems in the Southeast

September through November

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This is a busy time of year so planning ahead is important. The main goals are harvesting cash crops and planting cover crops. Along with these operations, soil testing, field repair, seed crop planting and small-grain cash crop planting are accomplished.

Harvest Cash Crop and Plant Cover Crops

Once harvest is underway, it is time to get cover crops planted. The best way to do this is to plant cover crops during or soon after harvest operations. The goal is to plant early to give the cover crop the best chance for maximum biomass production. On many farms, harvesting is done in the afternoon, after morning moisture evaporates. In these situations, cover crops can be planted in the morning. Some farmers broadcast cover crop seeds before harvest and use the harvest operations to improve seed-soil contact.

Take Nutrient Soil Samples

Now is the best time to pull soil samples for nutrient testing. Normally, soil nutrient levels are lowest in the fall. Pulling samples at this time provides the best results for planning applications of lime or other nutrients for fall and spring crops. Pull samples just before or soon after planting cover crops.

Take Nematode Samples

Nematode numbers are usually highest when fields are producing crops. When crops are taken off the land, levels begin to drop. So, the best time to pull nematode samples is when crops are in production, but this is difficult to do with crops such as cotton and corn. For these crops, sample problem areas during the growing season and pull the remaining samples as soon after harvest as possible. To save time, pull post-harvest nematode samples and nutrient samples at the same time, in the same bucket. Then prepare samples according to lab directions.

Fix Erosion Problems

Severe erosion problems may have occurred in fields that have been neglected. If fields need land leveling or washes need to be repaired, do it before implementing conservation tillage. Once conservation tillage is implemented, a good cover crop will prevent further erosion.

For fields already in conservation tillage systems, minor repairs will need to be made to pivot tracks and to places where equipment has bogged during the growing season. Take care of these problems in the fall before the cover crop is planted.

Plant Seed Patch

Growing a seed patch for cover crops saves the cost of buying seed and ensures a seed supply. Planting the seed patch with a grain drill is the best way to get a stand. Be sure to apply lime and fertilizer if soil tests suggest it is necessary.

Plant Small-Grain Cash Crop

Wheat and other small grains can be planted for double-cropping, meaning following one cash crop with another in the same year. Once the small grains are harvested in the spring, summer cash crops can be planted. In the Southeast, October is usually the best time to plant small grains for double-cropping. Fertilize these crops according to soil test results.

Do Not Stop

In spite of best efforts to get cover crops planted on time, weather and other factors may cause delays. If delays happen, plant the cover crop as soon as possible. Plantings delayed until the middle of December will still provide many benefits.

Scout for Weeds

One advantage of planting cover crops early is winter-weed suppression. Still, it is a good idea to scout for winter weeds that may emerge during these months. Scout for chickweed and henbit, two common winter weeds found throughout the United States. For best results, it is important to control them while they are small. Herbicide choices for winter weeds are selective. Positive weed identification is important to making the best herbicide choice.

Download the table from Chapter 4.