Tag Archives: Dan Towery

Exceeding with Interseeding

When you think about planting this spring, consider whether you might want to include annual ryegrass seed in the mix.

More producers are adding an annual ryegrass seeding in late spring, planted between rows after corn has reached mid calf to knee height.

Interseeder

Interseeding makes sense for a number of reasons. First, it’s a more reliable time to plant, rather than the fall, worrying about whether the weather will hold out long enough to establish a cover crop before freeze up.

Annual ryegrass will germinate quickly between the young corn crop, if there’s enough moisture. When the corn grows tall enough to shade the cover crop, the annual ryegrass goes dormant for the summer. Then, after harvest, the ryegrass takes off with whatever light is left in the fall. Having established it in the spring, there is an established root system, so the growth in the fall can be significant….perhaps even enough to graze, if that’s in your plan.

Interseeded cover crops have a better chance of wintering over because they were established early in the year. The crop will be there in the spring after the snow’s gone, and you can graze it again before killing it at about this time of year, before planting corn again.

Dan Towery, a longtime consultant to the Oregon Ryegrass Commission and a pioneer in cover crop agronomy, is an expert on interseeding in the Midwest. Any questions, give him a call. In Indiana, he’s at 765-490-0197.

 

More Buzz about the Value of Cover Crops

“The good news is, soil will improve every year you grow a cover crop,” said Dan Towery, a crop consultant, and owner of Ag Conservation Solutions, living in West Lafayette, Ind.. “How soon you see measurable yield improvement depends on field history and what limiting factors, such as weather, are present in a year. For example, soils that are low in organic matter will benefit faster from cover crops.”

His comments are part of a longer article in the Farm Journal online. Click here to view the whole article.

Carbon sequestration graphicKen Ferrie is also interviewed for the article. Ferrie, Farm Journal’s Field Agronomist said “It might take many years to make big changes in soil health, but in some situations, you might see improvement (earlier than that.). For example, he cited a study in which annual ryegrass as a cover crop improved carbon content, bulk density and water infiltration IN THE FIRST YEAR!.

“As with any new practice, you’ll be eager to determine whether cover crops are having an impact,” Ferrie says. “Your soil physical provides a benchmark so you can follow up later and see if soil health is improving.”

Another farmer and rancher, Gabe Brown, talked about the benefits of cover crops in North Dakota. “You should use covers to address your resource concerns,” advises Brown. For the past two decades, he’s used cover crops to increase diversity, build organic matter, and improve water infiltration and the water-holding capacity of his soils.

“We look at each field separately and determine what the resource concern of each field is,” he says.

But make sure you choose a cover crop with a lot of forethought and advice from others with experience. Otherwise, you may be inviting failure or added problems. “Cover crops take more management, not less,” said Mike Plumer, who died last Christmas after dedicating 50 years to soil health and farmer education. “Farmers have to learn how cover crops react on their own fields.”

Plumer advised producers to start small with cover crops – perhaps a 20 acre plot or so, before “before incorporating on the entire farm.”

Towery and Kok to Present at NNTC on Cover Crop Variety

The upcoming 2018 National No-Till Conference in Louisville, KY (Jan. 9 – 12) will feature some familiar faces, but with them comes new information about how to make cover crops work for you. Here are two of the classroom presentations you may wish to schedule.

Towery and Kok NNTC 2018

 

Dan Towery and Hans Kok have been educating people on cover crop choices for close to 20 years. Towery helped to introduce  “interseeding” of cover crops into standing corn and beans about six years ago. This year, Iowa farmer Loran Steinlage will discuss his experience with interseeding, and the increases in crop production as a result.

Photo - interseeder from Iowa 2017

 

Here’s a link to the whole 2018 NNTC program

Annual Ryegrass Helps Weed Control in No-Till Acreage

There are times when evidence from on-farm research, from growers, differs from evidence from university plots. Earlier this year, the long brewing animosity over annual ryegrass emerged again, when Purdue University weed scientist Bill Johnson again claimed that the cover crop is a tough-to-control weed.

Evidence from the field, going back 20 years, suggests otherwise. In a No-Till Farmer article earlier this year, magazine founder and editor Frank Lessiter said that growers tend to follow what works, No-Till Farmer’s benchmark study last year found that 28% of growers seeded annual ryegrass as a cover crop in 2016.

Mike Starkey, former president of the Illinois Soil and Water Conservation District Association, said Purdue has unfairly painted annual ryegrass as a nuisance. In his experience, no-tilling 2,550 acres and using annual ryegrass as a cover crop on all but a sliver of his cover cropped acres, he has found no problem controlling annual ryegrass. In fact, he said that annual ryegrass helps to control other weeds in his fields. “We don’t have many weed concerns, but annual ryegrass suppresses the weeds we do have,” says Starkey. “It also scavenges nitrogen, improves our soil structure and aids in the movement of air and water in the soil.”

Van Tilberg 2011 Hi-Boy Seeder2Dan Towery has promoted annual ryegrass and a host of other cover crops in his decades of work as an agronomist and crop consultant.He said he thinks that Purdue has gone overboard with their objections to annual ryegrass. He maintains some Purdue folks rely too much on what they’ve learned from their own research plots, are not big believers in no-till and have refused opportunities to see how growers are making annual ryegrass work.”

 

Interseeding Annual Ryegrass into Corn

The increasingly popular practice of interseeding annual ryegrass and other cover crops into spring corn continues to receive attention. Why?

  • In the Northern Corn Belt, growers find efficiency to seed cover crops in the spring, rather than the fall, when the window of opportunity for planting is very slim – between harvest and onset of winter.
  • The annual ryegrass gets established in young corn, but goes nearly dormant when the corn foliage creates too much shadow for more cover crop growth beneath it.
  • Interseeding annual ryegrass does not compete with the corn for nutrients or moisture, given that it goes nearly dormant.
  • Once the harvest is complete in the fall, the annual ryegrass picks up where it left off in the spring. The fact that the cover crop is already well established increases the chances it will survive the winter weather.

2015 Interseeding MN

It’s important to interseed the cover crop into corn that is about knee high. Dan Towery, an expert in interseeding, says that you want to let the corn get at least to V4 stage before planting the ryegrass. Otherwise it might compete with the corn for sunlight.

For more information, you can contact Towery at this email address: dan@agconservationsolutions.com

To read the whole article, click here. The article begins on page 17.

Satellite Imagery Helping Cover Crop Productivity

GPS and satellite technology have given agriculture a big gift, one that keeps on giving. With precision farming, growers now plant and fertilize based on field data and guidance systems calibrated to deliver the right input to the right locations. Productivity increases faster than costs, or at least that’s the goal.

Even a decade ago, there were only so many satellites and they were expensive to access the data for personal use. But now, nanosatellites scarcely bigger than a lunch pail provide far greater coverage at a fraction of the cost. Their low orbits and high resolution cameras give accurate, full time coverage. More importantly, the type of data available allows for greater application of data synthesized from aerial and ground sources.

satellite image cropland

Remote sensing is able to detect variability in soil and crop conditions.High-resolution, “multi-spectral” photos help understand what’s going on in the fields, and help reduce crop inputs. Pest and weed control are easier and less expensive. Imagery and field data help growers schedule harvest to maximize yields.

The latest in a new array of these tools is a collaborative effort called OpTIS (Operational Tillage Information System). Combining satellite and various on-the-ground data gathering methods, growers can now access information that allows field-specific tracking of crop residue management, types of tillage and cover crop use and value.

OpTIS uses multi-spectral satellite imagery to measure wintertime vegetation on agricultural fields and combines this information with site-specific knowledge of crop rotations and cover crop management practices. Images taken throughout the year are converted to show estimated cover crop coverage, the amount of cover crop residue, the type or classification of tillage practice, monitoring seasonal changes in cover crop residue and compiling all this with data from the field, the watershed and the wider county level.

According to a presentation by Applied GeoSolutions, LLC, about the OpTIS system, “Proximal sensors and on-farm sampling are used to calibrate imagery interpretation, and hyper-spectral, biophysical models are used to understand the impact of various components of ground cover (vegetation, soils, crop residue, and shadow) on field reflectance.  Using these methods, USGS researchers can map cover crop performance at the watershed scale and improve the understanding of conservation outcomes associated with various cover crop management strategies. This information is used by farmers and conservation agencies to promote adaptive management of winter cover crop programs to maximize environmental benefits.”

In a pilot program last year, OpTIS was used in a small number of Indiana watersheds. Based on initial feedback, the program will broaden this season to more sites in that state as well as other sites in Ohio, Illinois, and Iowa, according to Dan Towery, whose work with the Indiana Soil Health Management project intersects with the OrTIS project.

Towery also said that the data available will help growers understand more about their varied soil types, help them gauge the impact of cover crops on building organic matter in the soil, and even better understand how to adjust management practices more accurately based on annual precipitation.

 

 

 

Annual Ryegrass Video Series – for beginners and intermediate cover crop users

soil pit2The experts said it back in 1998, that no-till and cover crops were a winning combination for corn and soybean growers. Ten years later, a series of videos were done to introduce the idea and bring basic understanding of the what and how of cover crops. Back in 2005, the idea that a cover crop could sink winter roots down to 50 inches or more was revolutionary in the ag industry. Today, the practice is becoming widespread in the Midwest. The videos stand up to the test of time, and continue to be a solid source of information.

In the first video segment, you can get a glimpse of the main characteristics of annual ryegrass, and a couple of its major benefits.

Root depth: “Better than a deep ripper, in terms of its ability to break up compaction,” said Dan Towery, of Ag Conservation Solutions, an Indiana consultant on soil health.”Far deeper than other cover crops,” said Mike Plumer a former university agronomist and pioneer in cover crop development in the Midwest.

Nitrogen scavenger: those who use livestock manure in the field benefit by having the nutrient stay in the field.
“Annual ryegrass is a great nitrogen scavenger,” said another cover crop pioneer in Indiana, Dan DeSutter, …keeping it in the field instead of sending it down the tile lines in the spring with runoff.”

If the videos are of some interest, perhaps you would also like more information about the science and the management of annual ryegrass. If so, click here for a free brochure. Or, click here for a library of information on the annual ryegrass website.

National No-Till Conference – 25th Anniversary – Features Lots of Cover Crop Ed.

This year’s annual National No-Till Conference – Jan 10 – 13 – in St. Louis is perhaps the best ever. Here’s the link to the website. Click on the image below to see the entire prgram listing.

NNTC17 Program Cover

For you cover crop fans, here’s a listing of the speakers, classes and roundtable discussions about cover crops. There are plenty available on each of the three days of the conference.

Wednesday

Speakers

  • Ray McCormick, Indiana, 2400 acre grower, all no-till w/cover crop
  • J.C. Cahill – U of Alberta…how plants talk to each other and how knowing that might be important for your farm.

Classes

Ray Weil, U of Maryland soil scientist

  • Improve crop access to water and nutrients
  • Keep more N on your farm – research on how cover crops help N mgmt.
  • Boost soil bio processes in deeper layers

Ray McCormick, Indiana, 2400 acres, all no-till with cover crops

  • Adapting equipment for use in seeding cover crops
  • How to do it inexpensively ($13/a).

Dan Towery and Hans Kok, Indiana/Illinois

  • Interseeding cover crops into corn
  • Adding wheat to your rotation
  • Planting 8 – 15 way cover crop cocktail after wheat…and how that could produce a double digit increase in corn and soybean yields while cutting your N application rates in half.

Egon Zunckel, South Africa

  • Mitigating poor water infiltration, erosion and stagnant yields with a variety of practices, including cover crops
  • Introduction of livestock to help manage large amounts of crop residue.

Seth Watkins, Iowa

  • Cover crops, prairie strips, buffers, native grasses, terracing, crop rotation and rotational livestock grazing – protecting soils while building organic matter quickly and boosting profits.

Jim Johnson, Noble Foundation soils consultant

  • Grazing cover crops – how to get started
  • Research results from a variety of states.

Ten No-Till Round-table discussions on Cover Crops, including:

  • From the North Plains states, to NE and Mid Atlantic
  • Great Lakes and Ontario
  • Southern and High Plains
  • Midwest states: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri.

Mike Plumer – Making Sense of Cover Crop Mixes

  • When does one cover crop – or two or three – make more sense than a cocktail of mixes?
  • How to balance cost with needs?
  • Determine what soils need before making decisions about seed.

Thursday

Joe Breker, ND grower (spoke at inaugural No-Till Conference in 1993)

  • Cover crops in northern climates
  • Slash input costs with improved organic matter, banding fertilizer and cover crops.

Mike Plumer – Tips for Terminating cover Crops more effectively

  • How to do it effectively and save yourself headaches?
  • How weather, seed varieties, growth states and herbicide choices factor in?
  • Why to avoid the Variety Not Stated (VNS) label?

Alan Mindermann, Oklahoma

  • Use cover crops to help mitigate the effects of unpredictable weather and limited moisture
  • How to track moisture and herbicide applications while making rotation decisions?

Robert Kremer, Ag Research Center, MO

  • Impact of cover crops on suppressing weeds and weed seed banks.

Roundtable discussions

  • Making the Right moves with Cover Crop mixes
  • Seeing the Potential in Cereal Rye Seeding
  • Getting out of the Starting Gate with Annual Ryegrass
  • Turning Up No-Till Diversity with Radishes

Friday

Round-table discussions

  • Tips, Tools for Timely Cover Crop Seeding
  • Cover Crops that Cut Your Fertilizer Bill.

Randy McElroy, Sustainability researcher at Monsanto Co.

  • Transform soil with a variety of tools, including cover crops.

 

 

 

 

New Midwest Incentives for Cover Crops

Among other things, Dan Towery manages the Indiana part of the Soil Health Partnership, a network of innovative farmers in eight Midwest states. Dan has been a consultant for the Oregon Grass Seed Growers Commission that promotes use of annual ryegrass as a cover crop for more than a decade. He has been a steady voice for conservation agriculture since he graduated from Western Illinois University.

Dan was a staff agronomist for the Conservation Technology Information Center and was state agronomist in Indiana before joining the staff of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In recent years, Dan’s been tireless making connections – both one on one with Midwest growers – as well as nationally and in other countries, with leaders of industry, policy and conservation. That work created a natural space for him on the board of the International Soil & Water Conservation Society board for 6 years. He was selected as its president in 2012 and 2013.

This past growing season, the Soil Health Partnership conducted more than 40 field days in eight states, attended by more than 1500 farmers, eager to learn from each other the details of managing cover crops. The field days covered subjects like cover crops and other soil improvement methods, as well as equipment, nutrient management and other topics. The initiative, sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association has also gained tremendous support of a dazzling variety of groups including Monsanto, NRCS, the United Soybean Board, the Walton Family Foundation, the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy.

In September, largely because of its effective promotion of conservation tillage in the Midwest, the Soil Health Partnership learned that it won a $1 million Conservation Innovation Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant funding will help to quantify the gains being made by farmers using cover crops and other conservation strategies, according to a news release from the organization.

Farmers enrolled in the SHP program will be invited to participate in the carbon reduction incentive system, in which growers are paid by corporations to sequester carbon in their soil, according to the article.

“This is a great opportunity for farmers to continue being a part of the solution to carbon sequestration, and gain financial incentives for carbon-smart ag practices like growing cover crops and using minimum tillage,” said Nick Goeser, NCGA director of soil health and sustainability and director of the SHP. “We hope to provide businesses with a quantifiable method to reduce their carbon footprint by increasing these on-the-ground conservation practices.”

Soil Health Partnership Grows From a Desire to Thrive – Biologically and Economically!

The National Corngrowers Association started the Midwest Soil Health Partnership three years ago. Here’s what they say about the novel effort, supported at the beginning by Monsanto, The Walton Family Foundation and with technical support from The Nature Conservancy. Among its staff is Dan Towery, an agronomist from Indiana, who has been working with cover crops for decades and has been a consultant to the Oregon Ryegrass Cover Crop project for more than a decade.

This spring, the organization begins in its third year identifying, testing and measuring farm management practices that improve soil health. These include growing cover crops, practicing conservation tillage like no-till or strip-till, and using sophisticated nutrient management techniques.

 The program’s goal is to quantify the benefits of these practices from an economic standpoint, showing farmers how healthy soil benefits their bottom line. They also have positive environmental benefits, like protecting water from nutrient runoff.

Twenty-five more farms have joined the research effort, which could change the way the whole farming industry views agricultural best practices. The number of participating farms expands to 65 this year, located in eight Midwestern states. Data from farms will play a key role in widespread changes for improving soil health, said Towery, the Indiana field manager with partner Hans Kok, PhD.

From the Soil Health Partnership website, here is a goal statement:

Our ultimate goal is to measure and communicate the economic and environmental benefits of different soil management strategies, and provide a set of regionally specific, data‑driven recommendations that farmers can use to improve the productivity and sustainability of their farms. To that end, we plan to do the following:

  1. Recruit a network of demonstration farms 
    that will serve as showcases for other farmers to investigate innovative soil management practices, including reduced tillage systems, cover crops and advanced nutrient management.
  2. Establish research protocols that will allow us to measure the connection between a diverse range of soil management practices and soil health.
  3. Publish findings and recommendations 
    that highlight the economic and environmental benefits of healthy soil.
  4. Support networking and technical assistance 
    that will help growers and their advisors make decisions that will result in positive changes for the profitability of their operation and the sustainability of the soil.