Standout cover crop is rye

Although Vickers grows wheat, rye and oats as high-residue winter covers — and also sells the oats — it's the rye that's made him a believer in the value of cover crops. He uses it to prevent root-knot nematode problems and credits it with "dramatically" boosting his weed control, deterring weeds and "shading everything out."

Vickers sows his cover crops all the way to his field edges and even into his roads. He feeds them lightly with nitrogen if he thinks they need it. In spring, when he plants his summer cash crop, he kills the cover crop with a herbicide and plants either peanuts or cotton right into the standing litter. When he grows corn, he sows that directly into the green cover crop.

Cutting back to just one preplant insecticide in his peanuts slashed the insecticide share of his budget by 50 to 60 percent.

Vickers' improved farming practices let him produce profitable cash crops without hiring labor. "I do all of it myself — everything — but there's plenty of time to do it," he says. "If I weren't doing it this way, I couldn't farm. There would not be enough time for me to do everything that needed to be done to plant a crop."

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