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Monday, February 4, 2013

Cover Crops Day Two

Cameron Mills kicked off the morning session I attended on Day 2. Mills talked about his use of annual ryegrass.  He stressed the need to plant when it is time to plants.  He says sometimes he might need to run some green through the combine, but that does not bother him much.  He has 30 inch row corn and narrow beans.  He likes drilling if possible but many times it is not.  He says vertical incorporation is ok with high residue, but it is not his favorite.  Likes airplane seeding. Seeding time is when soybeans start turning yellow, but before September 15.  Timing is critical and earlier is better. Winds need to be 7 mph or less.  He says not to mix seeds that have different sizes and weights such as peas and annual rye. His take home points about flying are:
  • Timing is critical
  • Soil condition when flying  is important
  • Plane elevation and pilot treetop level
      Mike Shuter had high clearance equipment that he uses for seeding, applying Nitrogen and seeding cover crops. He says your herbicide program needs to be geared to cover crops.

Dave Stutzman is using vertical tillage to incorporate cover crop seed blended with DAP.  He likes an Airflow spreader but says custom spreading works better with harvest.

Terry Taylor reaffirmed the need to seed early.  He says wheat is not a good cover crop because of disease problems. He says to use cereal rye instead. He added that producers need to make sure the implement you use for seeding will throw seed properly.

Ron Althoff pointed out that radishes need 60 day growing season.(Plant early).  He says ryegrass is a no brainer for cattle farmers.  Someone asked about roots in tile systems.  He says that it happens but.  Ryegrass roots are fine so not a problem. Radishes sometimes clog tile.  Althoff says that if you want to use Crimson clover as a nitrogen source you need to plant corn later because it does not grow in fall much.  The spring growth is what fixes the largest amount of nitrogen.  He says a good choice for first timers is oats and radishes. Others said first timers should try cereal rye.

Joel Gruver talked about his research with organic farming and cover crops.  He is renting machinery from local growers to simiulate real conditions.  Precision cover cropping is the strategic placement of cover crops. He says that cover crops are multifunctional. Gruver’s Cover crop management summary points are:
  •  Avoid haphazard management
  •  Anticipate planting windows
  •  Match species with objectives
  •  Make sure seeding equipment is ready
  •  Confirm seeding availability
  •  Identify realistic termination method
  •  Allocate labor 
  •  Have contingencies
Gruver suggested looking at Midwest Cover Crops Council website and using their decision tool.

Allen Williams is a farmer who is using farming systems comparison trials.  He has lots of covercrops comparison trials.  Williams would be an excellent resource for a beginner.  He is using organic and conventional farming methods.  He says if he gets in trouble on the organic fields and uses a rescue treatment, it only takes him 3 years to get the organic certification back. 

Ron Moore of the Illinois Soybean Association discussed the need for high quality soybeans.  That means high protein and high oil high yield.  He says they are focusing on three legs of sustainability; economic - environmental – social. Environmental performance is only one step. Moore shares a graphic on improvements in soybean sustainability.  He also suggested that farmers can use the Fieldprint-calculator to assess sustainability. 

The Agenda gives biographies of all the speakers and additional information.  Also be sure to click on all the links for more information.  

Points I took away from the conference:
  • Cover crops are all about soil microbiology
  • The goal is living roots all year
  • Cover crops require the same attention to detail as cash crops - maybe more
  • Match species with goals
  • Cover crops seem to be a perfect enhancement to no-till systems
  • One of the speakers  said to find a mentor or start a support group
  • Even though we talk about soaking up excess nitrogen fertilizer, the N may not be available in the next crop year unless there is a legume in the mix
  • Farmers need to do a lot of research before jumping in feet first
  • Long term cover crop adherents are still learning too

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