The challenge was right there in front of Tim Burrack’s eyes. Where he grew seed corn, there was plenty of exposed soil after the seed corn was harvested in early September.

“I got tired of watching the soil erode,” said Burrack, who has farmed full-time in the Arlington area since 1973.

Burrack began experimenting with cover crops about six years ago, first with radishes and later with cereal rye, with mixed results. He broadcast cover crop seed with fertilizer, but rains didn’t always come at the right time. He next tried drilling the seeds, but that was expensive and slow.

About three years ago, Burrack began using specialized seed plates in his planter, which...