Plant crimson clover and several other annual cover crops with a drill after harvest and you have the best chance of getting an excellent cover crop stand. There's just one problem. You also have an excellent chance of not having time for the crimson clover to grow before cold weather sets in. It may affect what net benefit you get out of the crop next spring.
That's why farmers are having cover crops flown into standing crops, delivered into standing crops using high-clearance sprayers and seeding off of corn heads, grain platforms and in front of vertical tillage or minimum tillage tools – anything to get an advantage of getting the seed out there early.
Corn Illustrated 7/22: Two Ears Per Stalk? This Could Be a Good Year for Corn!
Mike Starkey is one of the farmers playing with the idea of getting it started much earlier – at sidedressing time in corn in early summer. He actually applied crimson clover off of his N applicator on some acres this summer to test the concept.
He rigged up a seeder and plumbed hoses to drop seed every 30 inches. He used diffusers to help spread the seed out over more width than just where it would otherwise drop.
At least some of the clover has germinated. The jury is still out on whether this will be a viable approach or not. Meanwhile, he's already thinking about next year. He needs to modify the seeder to be able to seed annual ryegrass with it. He may try to make those modifications before next year. The annual ryegrass seed was too big for the particular seeder to handle.
Starkey also experimented with broadcasting soybeans between corn rows on a few acres. Picking up the idea from another innovative farmer, the idea is to see if growing soybeans between corn rows would help make more nitrogen available for the corn crop. That's another idea where the jury is still out.