Tag Archives: weed suppression

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.

 

Earth Day – A Tribute to No Till and Cover Crops

Perhaps the hoopla about climate change and global warming is yielding some new converts to no-till and cover cropping.

Not to say whether “man caused” or “cyclical trends” is the primary factor for the increased severe weather in the Midwest. Suffice it to say that, no-till and cover crops can help mitigate some of the weather-related damage.

Tillage is almost as old as human agriculture, a sure way to reduce weeds in cropland. No-till is also an ancient practice, but in the US, it wasn’t until the 1970s that it began to make headway in modern farming.

Cover crops are also historically significant. In ancient Rome and throughout Asia, farmers have long known the value of adding natural nutrients back into crop rotations to sustain soil fertility and health. Use of a type of Vetch, for example, rejuvenated rice paddies and, just before a new planting, the vetch was removed and composted. Leaving it for too long, they learned, could rob the soil of nitrogen.

In the US, George Washington was an advocate for cover crops and extended rotations. Just before he took office as our first president, he wrote a letter about his quest for barley seed, as well as clover to be used as a cover crop.

In more recent times, the Oregon Ryegrass Commission developed a partnership with university agronomists and farmers to launch what has become a very profitable addition to agriculture. Profitable, yes, for those growing and selling of seed. But even more profitable for those planting cover crops, because of its immense value at reducing costs while increasing soil health, diversity and productivity.

Whether it’s used primarily to reduce compacted soil, to reduce erosion, reduce weeds or reduce the amount of extra nitrogen in the field, cover crops like annual ryegrass are proving their value. Whether you’re looking to increase organic matter, deepen the soil profile accessed by corn plants, improve water infiltration into the soil or increase crop yields, cover crops deliver on those promises.

So as Earth Day rolls on by, give a shout out to those innovators who continue to advocate for farming practices that save the air, the water and the earth…while adding to your bottom line.

 

Cattle Ranchers Talk Cover Crops and Forage on Their Feedlots and Farms

Shane and Shawn Tiffany are young, energetic Kansas ranchers, who earned their stripes working for other ranchers before starting their own company in the early 2000s.

Cattle and cover crops

Tiffany Cattle Company is small by comparison, but the men have already begun to attract attention for their integrity, attention to detail and innovation.

Next month, Shawn will be a key presenter at the 2019 National Cover Crop Summit, March 20-21, 2019 — a free-to-attend online event featuring a series of seminars by experts across the cover crop spectrum.

It may come as a surprise to some, but the old fashioned feedlot has changed. Ranchers seek pasture grazing to bring healthier diets, as well as lowering their costs for supplemental feed. Shawn’s company raises 32,000 cattle at a time in two locations west of Topeka. They’ve found that cover crops are both sensible and profitable, they also help to rebuild prairie soil depleted from years of tillage and compaction.

In a search of the internet on the subject of cattle and cover crops, there is a surprising diversity in usage throughout the country. Here’s a story from a 1,100 acre ranch/farm in South Dakota, where Jared Namken raises Angus beef. He says rotational grazing allows him to use the entire acreage most of the year, even with heavy snow cover. He says the cattle will dig through the snow to get to the tasty vegetation.

Nancy Peterson and her husband graze cattle on about 4,000 acres of native grasslands in Nebraska, and  farm 2,300 acres. They use little to no irrigation and the area is dry; annual precipitation is less than 16 inches.

Getting back to the 2019 National Cover Crop Summit, March 20-21, 2019 , here are some of the other notable presenters:

  • Steve Groff, Common mindsets for cover croppers, cover crop consultant, Pennsylvania
  • Tom Cotter, Interseeding cover crops for grazing benefits, f

    armer, Minnesota

  • Paul DeLaune, Extending cover crop benefits in continuous wheat and cotton rotations, Texas A&M Univ.
  • Rob Myers, How cover crops impact farm profits, SARE/USDA
  • Erin Silva, Rolling cover crops in no-till systems, Univ. of Wisconsin Organic Ag.
  • Damon Reabe, Seeding cover crops aerially, even in spring, Cover crop applicator
  • Chris Teachout, Alternative row spacing and biomass-building with cover crops, farmer, Iowa

Farmer Success Stories with Annual Ryegrass

Over the past 20 years, tens of thousands of farms across the Midwest have quit tillage practices because they harm the soil. Instead, they’ve gone to no-till and cover crops.

To review reasons to switch to cover crops, click here and get a free detailed guide to the benefits.

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

Here are brief summaries of some who have become champions of annual ryegrass as a cover crop, because it makes both agricultural and economic sense.

Loran Steinlage, West Union, Iowa: “I use annual ryegrass in mixes on critical areas like washouts and Highly Erodible Land.”

John Werries, Chapin, Illinois. “I hate erosion. We think annual ryegrass had the best root system of any cover crop. It’s amazing to see the roots that it puts down.”

Donn Branton, Le Roy, New York. “Cereal rye can really get away from you in the spring. There’s less risk of that with annual ryegrass. And ryegrass has good, deep roots. Compared to cereal rye, annual ryegrass has a lower carbon-to-nitrogen ratio.”

Mike Starkey, Brownsburg, Indiana. “I’ve been using annual ryegrass as my cover crop of choice for at least ten years. Annual ryegrass has the biggest root mass of any cover crop. The roots can go down 36 to 48 inches deep. Those annual ryegrass roots scavenge a lot of nitrogen, which gets released later in the growing season.”

Mike Shuter, Frankton, Indiana. “We have a 110-acre field in a wet area of the county that needs drainage. After seeding it to ryegrass in the fall of 2012, we didn’t lose any corn in 2013. But all of the fields around it had spots that drowned out.”

Matt VanTilburg, Celina, Ohio. “We seed 20,000 acres of ryegrass in mixes a year – several thousand of ours and the rest custom.

Dave Wise, Iowa dairy farmer. “I first tried annual ryegrass in 2011, drilling 40 acres. Now, I seed it on continuous corn ground chopped for silage. In 2014, annual ryegrass seeded on bottom ground took off very well and overwintered well, too.”

Cover Crops Bolster the Health of Mycorrhizal Networks – and Why That’s a Good Thing!

The mycelium of a fungus spreading through soil (Credit: Nigel Cattlin / Alamy)

The term mycorrhizae refers to fungi present in the soil and the positive influence it has on the root system of host plants nearby, aiding both to the health of soil biology and soil chemistry. These fungi enhance the uptake of water and nutrients, including carbon and nitrogen. They also contribute to suppression of weeds and pests.

The formation of these beneficial networks can be influenced by factors such as soil fertility, resource availability, types of host plants, tillage and climactic conditions. They form a symbiotic relationship with host plant; the fungi get nutrition from the host plant roots and the host plant gets a healthier soil in which to thrive.

Cover crops are conducive to the development and health of mycorrhizal networks. Once in place, mycorrhizae digest plant material, and produce by-products including polysaccharides. These complex sugars create a kind of aggregation in the soil, small clusters that farmers refer to as crumbs. A well-aggregated or “crumby” soil —not “crummy” soil (depleted) – has more texture, better aeration, better infiltration, better water retention and is less prone to compaction.

Annual ryegrass is among the many cover crops that promote good aggregation. Grasses have a fibrous root system that spreads out from the base of the plant. These roots, in tandem with mycorrhizae, release the polysaccharides that then create the aggregation of soil between the roots. Aggregation is a sign that your soil is in the process of creating more organic matter, though a demonstrable increase (say, from 3 percent to 4 percent organic matter) will take more time. But a thriving mycorrhizal network is an indication that you’re moving in the right direction.

What is probably obvious to you at this point: tilling the soil discourages the development of mycorrhizae and the aggregation of soil, while also adding to the compaction of soil. No-till and cover crops are certainly important aspects of moving towards healthy soil, host to earthworms, microorganisms and mycorrhizae.

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.”

More Coverage – CTIC/SARE Report on Cover Crops

Since the first annual report issued by CTIC and SARE about usage of cover crops, in 2012, the average acreage planted in cover crops by survey respondents has more than doubled…from just over 200 acres to more than 450 this year. Click here to view the entire report.

The report said the continued rise in use of cover crops was surprising, given the low commodity prices. It suggested that motives beyond profit are in play. In fact, the report says that 86% of respondents said that soil health was the primary reason they invest in cover crops.

About 25% of the more than 2000 respondents said that cover crops are planted on most of their acreage (81 – 100%) with another 11% saying than between 60 and 80% is planted in cover crops.

More than half said that they saw soil benefits from the first year of cover crop use.

Almost 60% said they have “herbicide-resistant weeds” on their farm, and that planting cover crops helps to reduce those weeds significantly.

When asked which cover crops were most effective in controlling herbicide-resistant weeds, most said “mixes” of cover crops, which all contain annual ryegrass. The second most popular response was annual ryegrass itself.

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.”

 

Killing Annual Ryegrass Cover Crops Adds to Soil Organic Matter

Cereal rye is a great cover crop. Sometimes, however, the amount of biomass in the spring creates difficulty for drilling corn seed. The excess vegetation can impede proper planting and can also take moisture out of the soil that crops will need this summer.

Annual ryegrass doesn’t create as much biomass,The residual left by the annual ryegrass after burndown quickly decomposes into the no-till soil. It becomes food for soil critters and microorganisms. And the massive root network slowly decomposes too, building organic matter. The channels created by ryegrass roots become channels for corn roots. The combination of root channels and more organic matter allows better infiltration of rain. but it is important to spray the crop out in a timely fashion.

Corn roots in ARG 6-06 Starkey
Annual ryegrass, if let grow too long, can be more difficult to kill. And letting it go to seed is asking for trouble…nobody wants to contend with a cover crop that gets away.

Last week’s blog discusses the proper guidelines for applying herbicide to kill the cover crop. Here’s a linkto the management guide where those instructions are.

 

Interseeding Webinar – Seeding Annual Ryegrass and other Cover Crops in the Spring

This spring, the University of Pennsylvania conduced a webinar on the subject of interseeding.

As you may have read here in past blog posts, interseeding is done in the late spring, when corn and beans are sufficiently established (v 6 in corn) to plant annual ryegrass or another cover crop between the corn or bean rows. This planting is done with customized equipment – often a sprayer retrofitted with an air seeder. Some are combining this seeding effort with a side dress of nitrogen, to give the cover crop and the corn some boost.

 

2015 Interseeding MN

Interseeding has the benefits of being planted when there’s more time…trying to plant in the fall, around harvest, is often complicated with the harvest itself and sometimes weather. Interseeding has the added benefit of establishing a cover crop in the spring – which then goes semi dormant in the shade of summer foliage – and then its being able to get a good growth spurt in the fall after harvest. The early establishment of the cover crop thus increases the chances for the crop to survive the winter. It also acts as an effective weed suppressor.

Click here to access the webinar on interseeding.