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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cover Crops Day One

I have been asked a number of times recently what I know about cover crops.  Unfortunately until I attended a recent conference in Decatur Illinois, I had to respond that I know almost nothing.  I will try to sum up the gems of wisdom I picked up.  The conference kicked off with Dan Towery, Terry Taylor and Mike Plumer conducting an earlybird session that they called cover covercrops 101.  They gave a general summary of growing cover crops including details on what to plant and why.  Jim Gulliford of Soil and Water Conservation Society summed up their presentations by saying that “The goal is still the corn and soybeans.”

Doug Hanson of Pro-Harvest seeds kicked off the afternoon session.  Doug uses cover crops on his 80 acres farm to support a cow calf operation. One of his topics was cereal rye grazing.  He also uses oats and peas seeded in Mid-March to be grazed in early summer.  Annual ryegrass and white clover were used over seeding on pasture.  He worked it in with chain link and add alfalfa to the mix in May. Hanson wants a root in the ground 365 days for improved soil health. It cost him $8000 including some one time only costs to take off $9000 in forage.
Cameron Mills said he makes $1500 per acre in soybeans and cover crop rye forage.  He also got some nitrogen management benefit.  He says he got into cover crops because it made him more money.

Terry Taylor said his cover crops support microbes and beneficial macro invertebrates such as nematodes and earthworms.

Hal Brown says he is using oats and or crimson clover to boost radish growth.

Barry Fisher says we are trying to make happy soil.  A quality no-till system
needs a greater range of pathways for primary production and ecological processes. He say that researchers have a difficult time with cover crops because it is hard to have replicated research on a dynamic system.  He says more carbon in soil means less in atmosphere.  We are using atmospheric carbon to build organic matter.
Fisher says there are two cows worth of microbes in soil; Gotta feed the cows.  Rhizosphere is the area surrounding plant roots.  He says Albrecht found that it took 26000 gallons of water to support a crop on infertile soils.  It took only 5600 gallons  for fertile soils. No-till beat minimum till by 40 bushels per acre in  some of the driest areas this year.  Fisher says that cover crops can speed up the implementation of no-till.  He says that using cover crops creates a system of relentless pursuit of soil health.  He responded to a question about manure usages with a recommendation to look into low disturbance manure injection.   

Jim Hoorman introduced us to the term Ecological Farming. He says it combines no-till and cover crops. Hoorman says that microbes process 90 percent of energy in soils. He says that Natural soils give off sugar to feed microbes.  Keeping a continuous living cover on the soil helps to mimic nature.  His records show that Organic Matter has gone from 0.5% 15 yrs ago to 4.5% because microbes harvest and recycle nutrients.  Hoorman asked if anyone had ever seen how a cleared fence row will have much healthier crops than the surrounding cropland.  He suggested that we need to build organic matter in field instead of depleting fence rows.   

Hoorman says that nitrogen efficiency is about 30-40%.  He says that cover crops prevent loss of nutrients in micro pores.  He wants producers to us cover crops to mimic prairie. He discussed the importance of micorrhizae and how cover crops support them. He also discussed how Carbon to nitrogen ratios greater than 20 tie up nitrogen. 

The Agenda gives biographies on all the speakers.  Click on all the links for more detailed information.  

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