Category Archives: General Information

To Bail or to Bale. In this Case, it’s Both!

What the heck can one say at a time like this except, “Sorry for your pain.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the money spent on lobbying, marketing and advertising on behalf of agricultural issues had the desired effect? That the trade war hadn’t happened? That the gods and goddesses of weather would give us a break? That commodity prices would better reflect the effort that goes into producing crops for a hungry world?

Damn, and then this coronavirus comes along, incubated in an Asian marketplace where a way too close proximity existed between butchering live animals (infected with the virus) and selling the meat to customers. It’s still hard to wrap one’s head around why bats are such prolific carriers of viruses and how their blight infects poultry and livestock that gets eaten by us, The science is solid, but confusing to understand.

Regardless, the financial and emotional impacts of this latest disease on Midwest farm families is threatening an already unhealthy agriculture industry. Prices have been low to begin with, and now with markets shrinking and a shortage of farm labor, things have just become worse.

If there’s any silver lining here, it will be evident in two places: in our communities and in the form of relief offered by governments.

  • Like in the old days, when a neighbor called on us for support, we respond by sharing whatever we have. Sometimes it’s only a listening ear, other times physical and financial support. In those times, the spirit of community seems to lift everyone up and bring us together, those receiving and those giving. We’re in it together, thick or thin, red or blue, Christian or non-believer.
  • Many in the Midwest generally support a type of governance that exerts little in the way of oversight – whether from state or federal agents. And when things go awry, such as with natural disasters like this pandemic, we want to insure that the government (and its hundreds of millions of taxpayers) are there to support the rescue and rehabilitation of communities worst hit by disaster.

Oddly enough, the verb “to bail” refers to evacuating something, like water out of a boat or a bank account out of insolvency. In farming, the verb “to bale” means to gather something up, to consolidate it, as in hay. Yet, the word “baling” is equally apt for either verb. In the case of the Midwestern farm, it may be a unique opportunity to unite the verb forms. Our businesses need baling out and we also need the baling – or coming together – that community action can bring.

Spring Forward with Annual Ryegrass

Spring is, for cover croppers, the time to kill your cover crop before planting cash crops – corn or soybeans. For others, spring is also the time to plant annual ryegrass as a cover crop!

Interseeding is the name for putting out annual ryegrass seed in the spring, when your corn is established but before it reaches knee-high. There are a couple of reasons to consider doing it this way:

  • You avoid having to squeeze in a fall planting of annual ryegrass, when harvest and weather and field conditions can play havoc
  • The annual ryegrass will be well established in the fall when you take off the corn. It will have been sitting nearly dormant all summer – in the shade of the corn foliage – but its root structure will have been expanding, inching its way into the earth. This makes the grass more resilient to colder fall temperatures, and more likely to winter over in the field.
  • You can plant the cover crop with the same equipment used for side dressing the corn, thus creating efficiencies in your operation.

For those interested in interseeding principles and practices, check out this flyer. Below, a cover crop mix of annual ryegrass and clover established in the spring as corn grows to each side.

Ryegrass Saves the Gulf of Mexico…well, not quite Yet!

An article in the recent issue of Grist spent a lot of ink reporting on the value of cover crops. They looked specifically at a small Indiana watershed (Tippecanoe) and recorded what happened to the water quality when cover crop adoption approached 100%. Perhaps more accurately, they recorded what DIDN’T happen…the nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers stayed on the property and didn’t end up in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a short video, you can get the gist of what Grist had to say. Here’s that link.

But if you want to read the longer article, it’s worth it. Here’s that link, called Last Ditch Effort. Among those interviewed was Jamie Scott, an entrepreneurial grower in Indiana who has been instrumental for expanding the use of cover crop, particularly annual ryegrass, in the past 10 years.

Here’s a quote from the article, in terms of what they determined, in summary. After 13 years and a million dollars in state, nonprofit, and federal funding, the data show a clear decline in nitrogen and phosphorus flowing out of this watershed during the critical springtime thaw. These two nutrients fertilize crops, but when they wash into the water, they fertilize algae blooms and cause a host of problems. In other words, the chemicals we rely on to grow food often end up poisoning the planet and threatening the lives of many species on it, including ours.

Maybe you caught the editorial slant in the last sentence. Yes, Grist is an environmentalist magazine run by millenials who probably think they can right all the wrongs right away, if all the old folks would just quietly go away and die. But seriously, if a tree-hugging bunch of youngsters think cover cropping is going to save the planet, that’s good news…because cover crops can take care of a bunch of pollution problems, and that’s the truth.

Covering Cover Crops – Democratic Candidates Converge in Iowa – Get An Earful About “Regenerative Agriculture”

A story in the New Yorker magazine today is raising the national visibility about “regenerative agriculture”. https://www.newyorker.com/news/campaign-chronicles/how-an-iowa-farmer-used-the-campaign-stop-economy-to-push-climate-action-on-2020-democrats

In a nutshell, Lacona, Iowa farmer Matt Russell managed to attract a half-dozen of the 2020 Democratic contenders for president to his farm. His pitch…climate change is real and regenerative ag practices can do a bunch of things to mitigate some of the issues. No-till, and cover crops are part of the solution, and he said farmers need the federal government to invest in that future.

Cover Crop Adoption Steady for 20 Plus Years

Back in the 1990s, nobody but a few cranks and academics were playing around with no-till and cover crops. Then Mike Plumer started researching and testing the hypothesis that both practices would benefit farm profits and soil health.

Fast forward a quarter century, and take a look at the rate of adoption of cover crops in the Midwest.

The good news, over the past 12 years, more than 15 million acres of precious farm acreage have been planted in cover crops regularly, and are now building value and productive qualities. The first 10 years of Plumer’s and Dan Towery’s work to educate growers produced negligible results of cover crop acres. But by 2006, adoption began to gather momentum and the growth since then has been impressive.

The bad news, only about 5 percent of the acres planted for agriculture in the slightly expanded Midwest map are currently planting cover crops.

The good news: Three states (Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan) have about twice that average, with Pennsylvania topping the list at 12.9 percent of farm acreage in cover crops. (Michigan and Indiana are just behind, with 8.5 percent each). Further, both Michigan and Indiana have made better than 50 percent increases in just the last five years.

The bad news: if the growth rate continues at current rates, only about 14 million acres of the most productive farmland in the Midwest will be in cover crops by the year 2025. Presumably, the rest – more than 100 million acres – will still be in convenventional tillage.

Annual Ryegrass – Turning The Big Ship of Agriculture Around

In December, cover crop guru Dan Towery came to Oregon to address a conference of growers and suppliers about the history of annual ryegrass in the renaissance of cover crop use in the Midwest.

His message had one of those “good news/bad news” stories. The good news: the number of acres planted in cover crops has grown steadily since the introduction of annual ryegrass in the late 1990s. In fact, the annual rate of increase has reached as high as 15 percent.

The bad news: the overall percentage of ag acres committed to no-till and cover crops is still very low, compared to the number of acres planted. See the graphic below.

Green under White – The Ideal Winter Color Scheme involves Cover Crops

As winter approaches, the fields now stripped of corn and beans ought to have a cover of green before the snow flies.

Van Tilberg 2011 Hi-Boy Seeder2

First, and foremost, if winter snow comes late or not enough, your soil can be stripped from your property, and you can expect to lose both fertility and productivity as a result. Wind, rain, melt and freeze and run off can be devastating.

A cover crop provides a blanket of protection from the ravages of winter. Annual ryegrass doubles its benefit by protecting the surface while restructuring the soil profile below. It has a massive root system that adds organic matter to the soil. Moreover, it sends roots deep into the soil to 6 feet, through compacted layers, and provides channels for next year’s corn to follow.

With a cover crop in place, even without snow, the greenery will protect the soil from an infestation of annual weeds over the winter, as well as prevent erosion next spring. When you get rid of the cover crop, with glyphosate, the residual biomass left by the annual ryegrass or other cover crop will  continue to decay and feed the corn or beans the stored nitrogen in the residue. That helps to reduce the amount of money you’ll have to spend sidedressing your crop with extra nitrogen in June.

Here’s a link to a number of helpful tips for starting and  managing annual ryegrass as a cover crop. Please contact us if you have questions.

 

Annual Ryegrass in Cover Crop News

Annual ryegrass has been part of a revolution in American agriculture for the past 25 years. Farmers found that no-till is kinder to the soil and that cover crops make soil richer and more productive.

ARG Chris B 45 days 10-15 to 12-30-2005

In the past two decades, innovative farmers, research agronomists and Oregon seed growers have worked to improve the ryegrass seed so that it is more reliable, easier to grow and easier to manage. New varieties developed in Oregon now withstand tough winters as well as drought conditions. And, as you’ll see in these attached articles, the innovation continues to thrive.

The Capital Press recently reported about “interseeding” annual ryegrass into spring corn. Click here to read what they’ve discovered.

Click here for a general overview of planting and managing annual ryegrass.

Click here to look at how to integrate annual ryegrass into a forage operation, seeding the cover crop while applying nitrogen-rich manure.

And for those new to planting annual ryegrass as a cover crop, take a look at this site, brought to you by the Oregon Annual Ryegrass state commission, run by those who grow and sell the seed that is helping to transform farm soil in the Midwest, New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, as well as farms in southern Canadian provinces.

Annual Ryegrass – The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Ok, so the use of this cliche, “the best defense is a good offense” won’t stand up in today’s rough and tumble world of sports. Imagine the Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban or Clemson’s Dabo Swinney trying that strategy in the BCS Championship Bowl!

Image result for image the best offense is a good defense - college football

But, in agriculture, a good defense kind of creates its own offense. Take cover crops, for example, and annual ryegrass specifically.

  • Planting ryegrass in the fall gives the rich topsoil a chance to relax…no worries of some offensive wind and rushing water eroding it away.
  • No worries about compacted soil continuing to starve corn roots opportunity to access deeper nutrient-rich soil beneath the compacted layer.
  • The residue left over when the cover crop is eliminated in the spring (particularly true with annual ryegrass) is food both for the active soil biology, but also feeds the corn next year, because it soaks up excess nitrogen in the soil and gives it back when corn needs it most, next June.
  • The decaying root structure of annual ryegrass also plays an important role in building organic matter in the soil. It feeds the microbes and insects, plus it leaves channels where corn roots can grow deeper the following year
  • AnnuaL ryegrass roots also discourage the overpopulation of soybean cyst nematodes which damage that crop

As the country, and the world continue to grapple with the impact of violent weather, cover crops provide some defense from soil degradation, and contribute to storing more carbon dioxide in the soil instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

The best of all worlds, cover crops increase farm productivity and profits. And there’ll be no argument about creating a profit while you’re also contributing to the health of our soil, air and water resources.

 

 

David Kleinschmidt – New Annual Ryegrass Cover Crop Team Member

The last post, Dan Perkins was introduced, a 40-something organic farmer with tons of cover crop experience on his farm as well as with the Jasper (IN) Soil and Water Conservation District.

This week, David Kleinschmidt is the new team member to profile. He graduated from Southern Illinois University  in ag business economics and worked in ag retail sales before starting his own company – Progressive Agronomy Consulting Services. In a recent article in the Advantage press, Dan explained his newfound appreciation of cover crops.

David Kleinschmidt

“In the drought of 2012, I sold a lot of cover crops to farmers looking to prevent nutrient loss from fields that couldn’t produce. I started noticing the more I used cover crops, the more I saw a decrease in plant stress. Crops weren’t as fast to show nutrient deficiency, had fewer weeds to compete with, and more water was available later in the season, when the crops needed it. That network of roots puts the pore space back into the soil, creating a crop-supporting structure that can breathe AND deliver water and nutrients. When we nurture soil rather than rip it apart, it can function as intended – it becomes more productive and life-giving.”

Now a full-time conservation agronomist, Kleinschmidt spends a lot of his time sharing his insights and experience with others, many of whom are just coming to practice agriculture with cover crops. As quoted in the same article, he said,  “We all need mentors, so I partnered with Understanding Ag and Soil Health Academy. This gives me and local farmers in my community a chance to bounce ideas off of experts without fear of being judged.”

The Oregon Ryegrass Commission will contract with David and Dan to get further afield in their educational efforts, being involved in field day demonstrations, farm shows and professional conferences.

Stay tuned as we plan to feature the work these younger farmer/educators in future blog posts. They represent the future of ag and they are learning plenty from old timers like you who have pioneered cover crop’s worthiness.