Tag Archives: conservation tillage

Don’t Adopt – Adapt Instead

The days are long over for merely taking in what some trade show educator tells you and then applying it to your farm! You’ve learned how to take the guess work out of some of the things that used to be stumpers. Even taking your neighbor’s word for it comes with a grain of salt anymore, because the nature and condition of each farm acre is different.

Computers, GPS and soil testing have aided in our understanding of crop behavior, including what’s going on underground. In recent years, knowing the importance of microbiology in crop production has helped to improve soil health while also improving a farm’s balance sheet.

Cover crops provide residue (carbon) on the surface that keeps weeds down, releases stored nitrogen up to the next crop, and prevents soil heating, thus promoting a healthy environment for microbes, bacteria and fungi in the topsoil. The roots of old, terminated cover crops continue to give up food for biological life while adding to the organic matter of the soil.

While there are enough success stories out there to feel confident that cover crops are not a big risk. After all, many thousands have tried annual ryegrass and other cover crops, including cereal rye, and decided after a few years that they were going ALL IN, planting 100 percent of their acres in cover crops.

Regardless of what others did, however, starting out with a cover crop for the first time is a challenge. So, most transitioning to conservation tillage start with a small chunk of land before committing to plant the whole farm that way.

Once you see what changes occur on that test acreage, you’ll find out that managing annual ryegrass and other covers is not exceedingly difficult. You’ll also discover that the benefits, the savings and the profits warrant a bigger commitment.

Carbon Sequestration and Annual Ryegrass Cover Crop Acreage


Conservation tillage, in the best sense, includes cover crops. In addition to enriching the soil, cover crops literally inhale carbon dioxide from the air and use it for plant growth. What isn’t used for growth is eventually released back into the soil.

According to the Conservation Technology Information Center (and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization). upwards of ONE THIRD of the carbon emitted in our world (from power plants and internal combustion engines) could be offset if farmers worldwide would all make use of conservation tillage, including cover crops.

Carbon sequestration graphic

Annual ryegrass, as a cover crop, is adept at absorbing carbon and storing it in its massive network of roots. When killed in the spring, the annual ryegrass residue (including the roots) releases its sequestered nitrogen to help fertilize the new corn and beans in the field. At the same time, the carbon in the cover crop is released into the soil, improving the ratio of organic matter and adding to the food source for soil microbiology.

 

 

 

“Keep Up the Progressive Effort” on Cover Crops and No-Till, Says Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is managing editor of NoTill Farmer and the Conservation Tillage Guide.

Today, in the magazine’s E-Tip newsletter, he tipped his hat to those no-till and cover crop innovators for helping to change the face of agriculture…perhaps globally!

While some farmers have no-tilled and planted cover crops for decades, the practice has only taken serious root in the past eight to 10 years. The Oregon Ryegrass Commission has played a strategic role in that effort. With long time cooperation between Oregon annual ryegrass seed growers and University Extension agents like Mike Plumer and crop consultants like Dan Towery, a decade of trials attracted a lot of followers. Quickly, innovative farmers showed their neighbors, and conservation tillage was launched.

The Ryegrass Commission also sponsored early conferences on no-till and cover crop management, because they wanted to keep errors at a minimum. The last thing one wants is a bad experience to spoil the potential for growth.

So, here’s Dobberstein’s comments about the growth of no-till and cover crops, and his hearty encouragement to keep up the good effort. Click here for the full newsletter:

In the last month, while listening to leaders in both the private sector and federal government, no-till continues to be talked about on a national and global scale as a way to ease environmental and food-production challenges. Here’s what I’ve seen:

• Early in June, BASF held its Agricultural Solutions Media Summit (check out our Tweets) and tackled the issue of sustainability in food systems. A new research tool unveiled by the company, AgBalance, showed the use of conservation tillage had increased by 13% in Iowa between 2000 and 2010, and that a variety of best-management practices and hybrid improvements boosted the overall sustainability of corn production in the state by 40% during that time.

• Just yesterday, the USDA announced another $8.4 million in funding for voluntary farming-related projects that will address water-quality issues in several states bordering the Mississippi River. No-till, precision technology and cover crops will be crucial in this effort.

“Cover crops are one of the most exciting things that we’re doing,” said NRCS chief Dave White. “When I was growing up, it was winter wheat or cereal rye that was discussed. But now we’re getting different mixes out there with many different species.”