Equipment Companies Partner To Expand Cover Crop Success

By Kurt Lawton

Seeding cover crops early to improve growth before winter drives the water and soil improvement goals of this partnership effort by Montag and Hagie. 

Farmers truly appreciate small town, equipment-fixing talents, which harken back to the days of local blacksmith shops and the seemingly-magical methods used to bring parts and equipment back to life.

With nearly three decades of such small-town, problem-solving blacksmith experience, Roger Montag and son Anthony took their expertise in air-powered fertilizer metering and started their family-run business, Montag Manufacturing, in 2005. Their efforts to enable improved fertilizer management soon extended to partnering with companies to drive success in the strip-till business, and now they aim to deliver cover crop seeding innovation in partnership with Hagie Manufacturing.

Increased cover crop establishment success is vital to improve water and soil quality in Iowa, which is needed to meet the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS). Greater adoption of cover crops will remain a challenge if farmers have to rely solely on post-harvest seeding and establishment.

Technology to help farmers overcome this issue, by seeding in late summer, was on display at this year’s Conservation Technology Information Center’s (CTIC) “Conservation in Action” tour in central Iowa. Montag teamed up with Hagie to bring together the high-clearance STS sprayer with Montag’s Generation 2 dry delivery system to directly place cover crop seed on the ground in tall corn.

Speaking at the field day, Brian Johnson, Montag sales manager, described how the company’s interest in the cover crop side of the business ramped up several years ago. “We worked with Hagie to do cover crop placement the right way—designing technology to drop the right seed and rate directly on the ground, not lodged on or inside corn plants.”

Sustainable Strategy

Montag’s move to help farmers with cover crop application is a prime example of their core strategy on sustainability. They had specialized in precision dry fertilizer metering and placement since before the company’s beginning in 2005 — to help farmers improve fertilizer efficiency.

“We are passionate about nutrient management and cover crops, as both practices help farmers improve water quality and soil health. This will make farms more sustainable to improve the future of agriculture,” says Anthony Montag, CEO of the company.

This philosophy was a good match as Montag partnered with Hagie, who has long had their eye on sustainability. Hagie developed a nitrogen application toolbar back in the 1960s. They improved and reintroduced the technology in 2003 to help farmers split-apply nitrogen and reduce runoff.

“About eight years ago, we started seeing a need to get a cover crop established while the cash crops are still in the ground,” says Ken Baker with Hagie. “Farmers run into short windows when trying to get cover crops established after harvest and before winter hits. We played around with a couple of solutions, and what we’ve learned over the 60-plus years being a sprayer company is that we didn’t do dry flowable very well, so that’s where Montag came in, as they are the true specialists in dry flowable application.”

Such efforts led the Montag family to receive the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) Water Quality Initiative Award in early 2019. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig commended Montag for its goal of helping farmers be more profitable as well as being better stewards of the land by encouraging cover crops that help reduce erosion, stop the movement of nutrients into water, and improve soil health.

Private Sector Water Quality Leaders

Both Hagie and Montag executives also play an important role on the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) Business Council. “This group of executive leaders is driving private sector engagement to increase the adoption of conservation practices and other innovations that will improve water quality and help meet Iowa NRS goals,” says Sean McMahon, IAWA executive director.

IAWA works to improve water quality statewide in priority watersheds and through special projects. “We partnered with IDALS to create the Conservation Infrastructure initiative, which is designed to identify barriers and solutions to scaling up conservation practices as well as increase engagement from both the public and private sectors to improve water quality,” notes McMahon. “The Montag-Hagie partnership is a great example of how companies came together to address a barrier to increasing cover crops. These companies are creating jobs and economic development opportunities in rural Iowa while improving water quality.”

Montag Tech Speeds Cover Crop Application

The cover crop seeder (shown) was designed to fit the Hagie STS sprayer line. The Generation 2 delivery system, a 155 cu. ft. dry box, exactly replaces the existing spray tank. It features a twin bin to hold multiple cover crop species and/or fertilizer. “It can meter out variable rates and vary rates from each bin using map-based prescription applications of cover crops or fertilizer,” Johnson said.

At the CTIC tour, Johnson talked about the need for speed to get cover crops applied quickly and accurately. “Our next development challenge was to make sure we could go 120-feet wide and eliminate as many refills as possible. This Generation 2 dry delivery system has proven success across millions of strip-till acres, so we knew it would work,” he said.

Not only does the technology work across a 120-ft. boom, Montag engineered it’s air system to run using a standard pump to push air and seed/fertilizer accurately. “Farmers are proving they can accurately seed 600 to 800 acres a day, seeding cover crops at 8-10 mph,” Johnson said. This latest technology nearly triples the rate of application of the previous high clearance interseeder model.

Thanks to the work with Hagie, the STS is made to be a combo machine: the bin system lifts off and the spray hoses and nozzles are still on this boom. Users can swap out the dry box for the spray tank, remove the drop tubes, and spray.

“A pre-harvest application of cover crops is a game-changer when it comes to having living roots over the winter—to improve soil structure, soil health, water holding capacity, water quality benefits, and more,” Johnson added. “We need to look at cover crops as another cash crop and manage it that way for the ultimate success.”

“High clearance interseeding gives farmers a lot more options when it comes to seeding cover crops,” according to McMahon. “Last year many farmers who wanted to drill in cover crops after harvest didn’t get a chance to do so when their harvest came after the first hard frost. Interseeding in late summer gives farmers a much bigger window to apply cover crops when the weather is cooperating. It also enables more diverse cover crops species than waiting until after harvest to drill, when only the winter-hardy species have a chance to establish.”