Tag Archives: cover crops

Biomass and Cover Crops

Biomass refers to what’s left over in the fields once your cover crop has been terminated. Biomass is a crucial element in soil chemistry, as well as in the overall health of your land.

There are two basic elements to the biomass equation: the root mass that is produced during the life cycle of the cover crop; and the residue left on the surface of the ground after the cover crop has been terminated in the spring. The surface residue is useful to the new cash crop, whether corn or soybeans, because in decay, it gives back nitrogen to the juvenile cash crop growing there. Use of annual ryegrass as a cover crop can effectively cut the amount of nitrogen you apply to corn in early summer because of the nitrogen it gives back to the soil.

But it is the subsurface biomass of cover crops that are most important to soil health and, ultimately, the productivity of the field. The slow decay of the root structure continues to feed the microorganisms in the soil, and also helps to create a soil structure that let’s corn roots grow deep and water to soak in, rather than running off.

Over a period of years, the University of Nebraska did field studies of different cover crop species in different soil types, to measure the amount of biomass produced. In all cases, it was annual ryegrass that produced the most biomass of all cover crops. They refer to annual ryegrass as “rye” but that is distinctly different than “cereal rye.”

The following two paragraphs from a recent Successful Farming article talk about the value of annual ryegrass compared to other cover crop species.

In eastern and northeast Nebraska, the pre-harvest planting achieved the biomass threshold, producing on average 1,900 to 2,500 lb/A of biomass by late April to early May, whereas the rye planted post-harvest produced approximately half of that amount. Pre-harvest planted cover crops had lower emergence than post-harvest planted cover crops, but had more time to grow and tiller, compensating for low populations. In south-central Nebraska, both planting times reached the threshold, but the post-harvest planting produced more biomass. This site receives less rainfall in the fall, restricting the emergence of pre-harvest cover crops.


Overall, the mix biomass was lower than the rye biomass. The brassicas in the mix winterkilled, and hairy vetch and winter pea produced very little growth. Thus, the mix can be thought of as rye planted at 30 lb/A. Despite this low seeding rate, the mix produced more than the threshold biomass at the south-central sites in both planting times, and at the northeast site in the pre-harvest planting.

The article also distinguished between planting the cover crop before the harvest (broadcast from a high-clearance rig or aerially) or after harvest (seed drill). Generally, the drilled seed has a better record of emergence but, because of being planted later, it still doesn’t produce the biomass of the earlier broadcast seed.

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.

 

Cover Crops – A Living, Healing Insurance Plan

 

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Having a cover crop is the best insurance plan you could have. Consider:

  • It costs very little and insures against a range of disastrous consequences like erosion, compaction, depletion of nutrients and being overrun with weeds
  • Cover crops like annual ryegrass reduce the amount of money you spend on things like superfluous application of nitrogen, and maybe reducing the amount of tiling you need to do in the fields
  • Because of the protective and enhancing effects of cover crops, your soil health improves, the amount of organic matter increases, and there’s an increase in the healthy microbiology…the soil comes to life.
  • All these factors deliver added value in the productivity of crops and the value of the real estate.

Remember, you buy crop insurance in case of a disaster of some sort: bad weather, for example. Cover crops are in a way an insurance policy that is almost assuredly going to improve your profitability the longer you put it into practice.

 

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.

Dan Perkins – A New Ryegrass Team Member

“Cover Crop Guy” Dan Perkins was still in college when the Oregon Ryegrass Commission began its cover crop initiative in the Midwest. He recently became the newest member of the ryegrass cover crop team, and his youthful exuberance and depth of practical knowledge will be of great use to us and those who wish to know more about cover crops.

Since graduating in 2001 or 02, he’s received a dual Masters degree in Environmental and Political Science. An enduring desire to farm materialized when he and wife, Julie, moved to DeMotte, Indiana with their first son, purchased 20 acres and started Perkins’ Good Earth Farm.

While the organic farm business was growing roots, Dan went to work for Jasper County Soil and Water Conservation District, where he earned a Certified Crop Adviser designation.

After a decade at the SWCD, he decided the family (now with a daughter and three sons) and the business (with a successful Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, client base) needed more of his attention.

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We’re very glad to have Dan join our team as a consultant. The loss of Mike Plumer a couple years ago was hard, and Dan won’t be able to fill his shoes. But, in addition to other team members Dan Towery and Mark Mellbye, Dan brings new perspectives from a different generation of farmers.

Click here to see a website he’s developed with his wife for their farm.

Click here to see an example of a video on one aspect of cover cropping: interseeding.

 

Planting Annual Ryegrass This Fall?

For those already employing annual ryegrass in the mix of your cover crops, this information will be redundant. For those new to cover crops, here are a couple of free publications to guide your first efforts.

ARG in Quebec - November photo

1. The Benefits of Annual Ryegrass.

2. Management Guide for Planting and Managing Annual Ryegrass

3. Cover Crops for “Prevented Acres”. This is another in a series of posts about why cover crops make sense. It is from the Midwest Cover Crops Council, a valuable resource for good, current information about cover crops and soil biology. The first paragraph from that publication is pasted below:

The Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) recommends the use of cover crops for prevented plant acres when feasible for several reasons. Cover crops can be a good way to take advantage of an otherwise unfortunate situation. A full season cover crop is a great opportunity to improve soil health and function. Cover crops can help to reduce soil erosion and compaction, capture nutrients, fix nitrogen, suppress weeds, moderate soil moisture, and build soil health. Benefits accomplished with these cover crops will put farmers at an advantage for the following cash crop and for years to come. A full season legume cover crop can provide considerable nitrogen for next season’s corn crop. This is also a good opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of a diverse cover crop mix. Mixing species is a good way to compound the benefits from multiple species.

Winter Cover Crops Absorb Heat

Recent studies about climate change look at “reflectivity” as a factor of our warming atmosphere.For example, pavement is black and thus absorbs more sunlight than it reflects. Cities are thus warmer because of the amount of blacktop. Scientists recommend planting more trees to block sun and cool city heat.

In a similar fashion, a federally-funded study of cover crops has suggested that foliage has the same effect in winter, raising temperatures by as much as five degrees Farenheit over fields with exposed crops, versus those where white snow reflects most of the sun’s energy.

Here’s a link to the study. Their recommendation with winter cover crops is to cut them or graze them before snowfall, so the remaining foliage will not top out above the snow.

Cover crops left over winter in a field stick up above the snow.

Independence Day – for Cover Crops, it’s Inter-dependence Day…every day!

Remember the bumper sticker: “Every day is Earth Day for farmers?”

This Independence Day, think about that bumper sticker. Just because we farm, does it mean we’re in tune with everything Mother Nature brings forth? Does it mean that farming by the book, the way our fathers and grandfathers did, will make a difference for our sons and grandsons? Does Independence Day suggest we’re free, but only in the political sense?

America, Flag, Usa, United, States

When it comes to agriculture, paying attention to interdependence is what makes a good farm great. Cover crops and no-till is a good example.

  • Conventional tillage compacts soil and leaves topsoil free to erode or blow away. Cover crops breaks up compaction and prevents erosion and loss of a farm’s best resource.
  • Mono-cropping strips the soil of important nutrients. Cover crops, especially on no-till acres, builds organic matter that attracts healthy microorganisms, friendly bacteria and earthworms
  • Nitrogen-loving cash crops need added inputs to keep corn thriving. Cover crops sequester or add nitrogen which reduces the need for fertilizer
  • Conventional tillage allows for one harvest a year. With a forage cover crop, you can do all of the above PLUS get a cutting of hay or graze your livestock.

Interdependence means that we can improve our bottom line and increase our farm’s value by working with nature. Working hard comes with the territory. Working smart, in the framework of soil biology, will help everybody up and down the food chain.