Tag Archives: organic matter

Annual Ryegrass Helps Soil Microbiology Helps Soil Health

“Many times during a drought, plants are not as much water stressed as they are nutrient stressed,” said USDA soil microbiologist Kris Nichols.

Cover crops feed a whole web of soil organisms…much more than mere crop residue. Those organisms seek carbon and they get it from live plants like corn.

Nichols said that the microbes, in exchange for carbon, give up nutrients and water which they get from the soil.

Mycorrhizal fungi are an example Nichols uses to explain the value added that microbiology brings to crops. The little critters are threadlike, much smaller in width than plant roots, and have more access to more soil than plants.

Cover crops like annual ryegrass are conducive to production of healthy mycorrhizae population and create a symbiotic relationship helping the fungi, the soil and the plants. “Plants growing in soils rich with mycorrhizae take advantage of the fungi to help them obtain nutrients from the soil,” she added.

“They accomplish this using much less water, as well,” Nelson continued. The soil structure, rich with microorganisms, is more conducive to water retention, as she explains, “Organisms help form soil aggregates, which allows for better water absorption because there is more pore space in the soil for water as well as an exchange of gas.”






Towery to Lead Cover Crop Discussion at National No-Till Conference

On the No-Till Farmer website today, an announcement about the upcoming National No-Tillage Conference (Jan 9 – 12, 2013, at the Indianapolis Hyatt Regency) If you’re attending the Jan. 9 to 12 event at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis, please note the following new sessions on the program.

At Wednesday evening’s general session at 8:15 p.m., Dan Towery of Ag Conservation Solutions and a consultant to the Oregon Ryegrass Commission will present, “The Payback Potential Of Cover Crops In Enhancing Soil Health.”

Here’s how Dan described the presentation he’ll lead, with experts Steve Groff, David Brown and Dave Brandt adding their experience to the mix:

The process of increasing organic matter, improving nutrient cycling and cranking-up the soil biology is complex and not well understood.  Yet some producers have been able to consistently grow high yielding corn which tolerated the drought much better and needed significantly less commercial nitrogen.   

Organic matter, or humus, is the soil reservoir for soil nitrogen, sulfur, and much of the phosphorus. Increasing organic matter enables you to increase nutrient efficiency.  In addition, managing soils in such a way as to increase diversity and benefit soil organisms is an important component.  

Improving soil health or soil resilience can potentially provide 5-7” of additional moisture in a dry year, almost eliminate runoff, and require significantly less commercial nitrogen.  However, it takes time and a plan to see these benefits. 

Stay tuned…we’ll report back on the presentation at the No-Till Conference, where fundamentals will be covered and then you can decide if you want to join the parade heading to no-till and cover crops.