Advice from a Farmer: Transitioning to No-till & Cover Crops

2 minutes

Planting in the spring

  • It is important to remember that you’ll be a couple of days behind neighbors who are utilizing tillage to “dry out” their ground.
  • Fall burn down, or pre-emergence herbicide programs will be necessary for crops since tillage won’t be there to remove weeds.
  • Soils may be colder without tillage somewhat longer than normal—to help with this, bump starter fertilizer if your planter has that option.
  • Growers may want to focus now on planting soybeans before corn since soybeans usually handle colder soil temperatures better in most regions.

Fertilizer/herbicide application 

  • If you broadcast nutrients, it will be imperative to work with fertilizer dealers to not waste fertilizer. Won’t be able to work it in, so don’t want it to wash off in fall applied etc
  • Relevant questions to keep in mind depending on your location: do you need to split-apply fertilizer? Planter attachments? Weed and feed with a sprayer? Y drop? Coulter system? 
  • Owning your own sprayer puts you ahead of the curve—being able to save on application costs will help, as will saving costs on herbicides. 
  • Having a sprayer also helps with timely applications (making sure weeds are sprayed in a timely manner to not allow yield loss).

Other thoughts to consider

  • Looking into seed treatments—not always having worked and dry soil, treatments could have a big role for your operation.
  • Change in schedule—you may spend more time in the sprayer instead of working the ground in the fall and spring—therefore someone to tend water and chemicals will be needed.

Cover Crop transition

  • Planting
    • Understand your risk assessment before planting starts—will you plant green? If not, what is the best time to terminate? 
    • Plan, plan, plan—it is essential to understand which cover crops in the fall should be planted before your intended spring crop and what goes into this. 
    • Having the capability to band fertilizer on the planter will help when planting corn into green or standing covers.
    • Herbicide or crimping of the cover crops will need to be addressed and understood.
    • Conversations with landlords will be necessary about how the field will look messy or different in the spring.

  • Fall timing
    • How will you plant the covers? Broadcast pre or post-harvest, drill in, plant them in 15” rows etc. 
    • Pricing covers—knowing how that affects the bottom line and what to expect come next spring. Cocktail mixes aren’t always the best—sometimes it’s better to just keep it simple, especially early on. 
    • Consider the possibility of changing hybrids and maturity on soybeans to allow more time to plant covers in the fall.

Published on: November 25, 2021

Alex Fiock

Agronomist, Northern Indiana


Alex’s passion for agriculture stems from his upbringing on an Indiana farm (corn, soybean, popcorn). By recognizing the need for innovative farming practices, he directed his focus to soil, water conservation, and environmental science. Professionally, Alex has implemented cover crops across three states, and worked with tillage and nutrient management trials. During his time as Field Manger with the Soil Health Partnership (2017-2021). Previous to this role he served as District Sales Manager for Great Lakes Hybrids (2013-2017), covering EC Indiana. Alex earned his B.S. in Natural Resource Environmental Science and his Associate’s degree in Soil Science and Agronomy from Purdue in 2013. His area of expertise is offering guidance and feedback on no till conversion and cover cropping. Alex’s intention is to create a holistic view of farming and to be a demonstration for others on how we can be the difference.