Guth Farms finds success no-till planting vegetables into cover crops

Dan Hansen

BANCROFT, Wis. – Farmers throughout Wisconsin are consistently utilizing no-till planting for growing soybeans, corn, wheat and alfalfa. Guth Farms, Inc. one such farm that successfully produces a variety of vegetables by no-tilling them into cover crops.

John Guth observed the advantage of cover crops holding the soil in place, especially on a sweetcorn field that has hills and hollows most likely to wash out.

The fifth-generation family farm in Portage County is currently owned and operated by John Guth and his mother, Cathy. With the help of several employees, they regularly crop 2,500 acres of owned and rented land, employing new practices in vegetable and grain production.

Recently, more than three dozen area farmers, other ag professionals and some who are interested in Wisconsin agriculture toured several of the Guth farm fields. The tour was organized by Farmers for Tomorrow, a local group of farmers committed to working together to educate themselves and others about farming practices that can be used to ensure a safe and plentiful water supply for their families and future generations.

Field tour

The first of four tour stops featured three fields encompassing 225 acres with one field featuring no-till snap beans into sweetcorn stubble and a cereal rye cover crop. There’s been no tillage on the entire 225-acre block for several years, according to Guth.

Grain corn was no-tilled into pearl millet and a rye cover on a second field. Guth opted to no-till soybeans into grain corn stubble on a third field with an aerially applied cereal rye cover crop.

The second stop featured a field with a 10-way cover crop blend of cereal rye, annual ryegrass, German millet, yellow clover, tillage radish, sunflower, brown mustard, purple top turnips, rapeseed and peas seeded into canning peas stubble.

Participants also toured a field of sweetcorn that had been planted into cereal rye on a third stop. The final stop on the tour featured relay cropped cereal rye and soybeans.

Planting and harvesting

At each field Guth explained his planting and harvesting processes. “Most of my no-till planting is done with a Great Plains drill,” he noted. Looking at a field where beans had been harvested, he said, “We’ve run that no-till drill through here again, planting it back to rye and ready to plant sweetcorn into it next year.”

Most of the no-planting of cover crops and vegetable crops on Guth Farms is done with this Great Plains drill.

Another field of grain corn had peas last year. “We seeded a cover crop of pearl millet and cereal rye,” Guth said. “This spring I came out here and in early May planted green into that rye and millet which had a nice mat that kept the weeds down. A week later we sprayed with one pass of post emergent herbicide.”

Planting green is when seed is planted into a living cover crop. “I often don’t’  kill the cover crop before planting. I let it grow until the rye is headed out before I terminate it,” he said. “In the green beans I like to let that rye get 8-10 inches tall before I terminate it.”

He pointed to one field where beans had been planted, noting, “These beans were technically not planted green because I killed the rye early because we didn’t plant these until the middle of June. If I’d let that rye grow it would be too tall, and I’d have a hard time planting the beans.”

Canning company concerns

Guth currently produces vegetables for three companies. “I deal with Lakeside, Del Monte and Seneca Foods,” he said. “I’ve found the canning companies willing to work with me.”

He recalled starting his first cover crop by spreading rye on top of the ground. “With a little rain you can grow a cover crop right on top of the ground. You don’t need to have a big drill or planter. You just need to have some imagination.”

Guth finds it an advantage to plant his own crops instead of having the canning companies do the planting. “When I first started I planted 20 acres of no-till green beans. I didn’t really tell the company what I was doing. When they came out to harvest they discovered it harvested so clean because there was no soil mixed in with the crop from tillage.”

He acknowledged there are some issues with canning companies related to having any green in the crop. “What they really don’t want is to have any gluten in the canning crops.” 

Crimping or herbicides

While Guth has used a roller/crimper to terminate some cover crops, he relies primarily on herbicides. 

“I tried a roller/crimper for two years,” he explained. “I crimped the rye on about 12 acres and it was kind of iffy. In some spots the beans had a hard time coming up where it was roller crimped. I’m not sure if it’s a good long-term solution. I’d like to try it more in soybeans. Green beans are so touchy that you have to get them out of the ground.”

Guth experienced the advantage of cover crops on sweetcorn field that has hills and hollows that like to wash out. “There were soybeans on the field last year. After the beans came off we drilled in cereal rye, and the soil held in place really well this year thanks to the cover crop.” he said.

He noted that with early planted sweetcorn he can plant directly into the growing cover crop because the rye hasn’t grown too tall yet. “But we plant sweetcorn up until around June 20,” Guth said, “and as our planting season progresses I usually end up spraying the fields twice because we have to kill the rye early so it doesn’t get too tall.”

Guth has found that sweetcorn seems to yield better when the rye is terminated early. “If the rye gets too tall, we don’t have as good results with the corn. The drawback to late-planting sweetcorn is that it requires an extra herbicide pass, but I prefer that over multiple tillage passes,” he emphasized.