Farmers are known for their tinkering and coming up with frugal ways to address an opportunity or challenge. When Luke Gianforte wanted to try interseeding a cover crop into his 2023 organic corn and soybean crops, it seemed natural to build something in the shop over winter. Now the enterprising young man’s creation is sowing the seeds of soil health “from the knees up.”
Innovation runs deep at Gianforte Farm, where they farm 600 acres of Honeoye soils in the rolling hilltops north of Cazenovia, NY. The 2016 Madison County Conservation Farm of the Year honoree attributes their success in certified organic production to finding “a balance between crop selection, tillage and soil health practices, soil amendments, weather and timing to produce a good crop yield and reduce weeds and pests.”
This “delicate dance” produces 10 different organic grains and row crops and up to 13 different organic food-grade grains and beans in their planned rotation. Their crops are sold wholesale to mills, organic dairies and direct-to-retail customers from South Carolina to Maine.
The concept and practice of interseeding is touted in soil health circles to provide a flexible and innovative way to fit cover crops into the rotation for longer term soil fertility and biology benefits. The use of interseeding into waist-high corn and/or soybeans addresses Gianforte’s desire to add “air-captured” nitrogen to the corn crop, improve organic matter levels, keep soil covered and retain precious moisture during the growing period and into the dormant season for next year’s crop.
“It’s also about learning what works for our operation, and share with other like-minded farmers,” said Gianforte. “Mentoring is a powerful tool for conveying practical information.”
After getting some design ideas from Fennig Equipment out of Coldwater, Ohio, Gianforte found an old 30-foot anhydrous ammonia applicator tool bar at an auction and welded on another 10-foot so it would cover 16 30-inch rows. He also added some simple custom seed deflectors, powered by a used Valmar 1655 ground-driven Air Seeder System, that directs 6 lbs. of berseem and red clover and tillage radish seed per acre between the rows of the standing crop.
The precision and forethought of Gianforte’s effort from using crop rotations, fertility data, setting up a dual tire configuration, considering air pressures to lessen compaction and using targeted cultivation tools provides the opportunity for success. The heart of the accuracy is in his use of their John Deere 6145R tractor, equipped with the latest GPS technology.
This technology marvel synchronizes the corn planter and interseeder paths through the rows so plants are hardly impacted. “Without our GPS automation, it would be like having an engine failure,” said Gianforte.
He also uses drone technology synced with his smartphone to monitor plant spacing and crop needs, even while he’s in the tractor. Talk about multitasking!
Shortly after July 4, Gianforte invited Steve Lorraine, district manager of the Madison Co. Soil & Water Conservation District, to test out his farmer ingenuity. This trial and ongoing three-year, farm-level soil health practice is a project the two have worked on together through the New York State Climate Resilient Farming (CRF) Program. The goal of this partnership is to increase the resiliency for their organic cropping system while adding carbon sequestration capabilities and enhancing adaptation to heavy storm events, rainfall and drought while focusing in on soil fertility and health.
by Troy Bishopp