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In our last blog post, we shared some of the common reasons farmers choose to plant green (i.e., planting a cash crop into a still-growing cover crop), along with some of its benefits and drawbacks. In this post, we’ll be digging into the practice of planting green a little further by focusing on what you need to keep in mind when it comes to your equipment.

What equipment do I need to plant green?

In most cases, farmers can plant green using the hardware and planter you already have. Proper planter maintenance will be key – ensuring that openers are at the proper diameter, that row cleaners are floating, and that all bearings and bushings are functioning properly will give your planter the start it needs.

In addition to making sure your planter is properly maintained, some components – especially precision ag or smart components – will make the process more successful. This includes:

  • Downforce – The planter will need a robust downforce system to compensate for the green plant matter that will be lying down between the gauge wheels and the ground. The planter will need to apply more weight to keep those gauge wheels tight, and that need will differ based on soil type and cover crop biomass.
  • Variable Seeding Depth – This technology works with the downforce to make sure proper seeding depth is maintained, which in turn makes emergence much more even and improves yield and harvestability. We can also make a case for systems that sense and adjust the closing wheels, ensuring proper seed trench closure and good seed-to-soil contact.
  • Smart Sensors – The addition of smart sensors to the row unit provides you with peace-of-mind that the furrow is clean and you are planting in good moisture and temperature.

If you are using precision ag software and components, you won’t need to do anything special to plant green but you do want to make sure your data is recording correctly. The data layer for applied downforce, good ride quality, or seed trench cleanliness can all provide excellent diagnostic layers to overlay with the layers at the end of the year. These will help you refine what led to success or failure, and provide direction to improve in the future.

Do I need to set up my planter differently if I’m planting green vs. planting after the cover crop has been terminated (killed)?

Row cleaners, and the ability to adjust them, are more important when you are planting into a cover crop that has been terminated, is pretty much dead and has lost much of its mass. This is because the row cleaners are going to move more of the plant tissue out of the way and give you that “bare soil” patch for the gauge wheels to ride on. When a planter isn’t equipped with row cleaners, maintaining good ride quality or seed-to-soil contact is paramount.

Who should I go to if I need help making sure my planter is ready to plant green?

Today, there are lots of companies that specialize in planters. Find a group (whether the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or aftermarket) that specializes in customizing, or even custom building, planters – those are the people you want to work with. Sometimes this is your local ag retailer, a small family-owned precision ag business, or the OEM. It doesn’t matter – just as long as their focus is on making your planter better and not just selling you the newest model.

Digging In

Additional equipment and precision ag hardware might be viewed as a luxury to some, but we know there are plenty of folks out there planting green with spring-down pressure and planters that have several seasons on them. Growers are nothing, if not resourceful! If you are interested in planting green, be creative, be willing to learn and change from your experiences, and be a student. As my grandmother liked to say, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You aren’t going to live long enough to make them all yourself.”

And, in our final post for this series, Jack Cornell and I will be sharing the things we think you must know before planting green.

Keith Byerly
Keith Byerly
Keith Byerly is the Field Team Director–West and a Field Manager for Soil Health Partnership covering Kansas and Nebraska.