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Creating a stronger beef business with a resilient grazing system

livestock resilient grazing system
livestock resilient grazing system

Through disrupted supply chains impacting beef prices and marketing opportunities to tight commodity supplies inflating the cost of feed, beef producers have had to navigate some extreme variables throughout the last year.  

However, as profit margins continue to become ever slim it’s worth asking – how can producers take back more control?  

Creating a resilient grazing system  

The answer is in the grazing system, says Dr Woody Lane, independent grazing consultant at Lane Livestock Services in Roseburg, Ore. 

According to Dr Lane, feeding tends to encompass 65-75 percent of the operation’s budget, making a resilient grazing system key for any cow-calf operation in the country.  

“I’m talking about the entire budget,” he says. “Not just the out-of-pocket costs of storing and buying corn or minerals.” 

Other costs directly related to feeding animals include details like buying or renting land, barns for storage, haying equipment and even hauling manure.

“If we can save 10 or 20 percent of the feed budget by taking advantage of grazed forage while still having healthy animals and maintaining performance, the cost of production is going to be much less expensive,” explains Dr Lane.  

Typically operating as price-takers, slashing the feed bill without sacrificing performance enables beef producers to survive more difficult periods while walking away with more additional income with conditions are favorable – that, to Dr Lane, is what makes an operation resilient.  

Extending the grazing season 

A powerful cost-saving tool when tightening the budget is extending the grazing season. Not only does this stretch out homegrown feed resources, but it reduces costs associated to machinery and labor by relying on livestock to harvest their own feed.  

“Not grazing livestock enough and feeding too much hay or baleage are some of the most common things I see that are adding unnecessary cost to the feed budget,” explains Dr Lane. “If you can drop the number of days you feed animals, you save a lot of money. But in order to do that, you have to have forages at times of the year, even when it doesn’t grow well.” 

This is where pasture management to extend the grazing system comes in. Essentially, it all comes down to the soil and growing forages that can maintain its fertility and absorbency, Dr Lane explains, as this will allow the overall pasture to remain greener and more prolific on both ends of the grazing season – even in times of dryness. This is particularly beneficial to mitigate what he calls the summer slump, when grass growth starts to slow down.  

“In the eastern part of the country, we start to see main forages like Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue slowdown in July and August,” he says. “By reducing that slump, you can get the grass growing better in various ways either changing the plant structure or changing the forage’s ability tendency to reduce the growth. These are all ways in which you are gaining more feed in the pasture at times when you previously didn’t have.” 

Finding the right forage tools  

While there is no cut and paste template that every operation can follow due to variables like unique environmental challenges, resources and business strategies, there are some points every producer should keep in mind when creating a more resilient grazing system.  

According to Risa DeMasi, co-founder of GO Seed and beef rancher’s daughter, selecting the right forage species to obtain the desired grazing system is a bit like genetic selection to build the desired cattle herd.  

“The principle of plant genetics and beef genetics are the same. Plant varieties can be bred for consistency of particular traits like cold tolerance, nitrogen fixation and the ability to survive in extreme wet or dry conditions – just like cattle can be bred for traits like calving ease or growth,” explains DeMasi. “These traits allow producers to select forages that will best perform in their environment while working to achieve their production goals.”  

In a recent trial by Mississippi State University, researchers Dr. Rocky Lemus and Daniel Rivera looked at how average daily liveweight gain (ADG) of cattle were impacted when grazing a monoculture of annual ryegrass against different mixtures including FIXatioN Balansa Clover, a high performing clover variety bred specifically to produce notable amounts of low bloating biomass and fix significant amounts of nitrogen. Alongside the monoculture of annual ryegrass, the three mixtures with balansa clover individually included annual ryegrass, oats and wheat.

Dr. Rocky Lemus Quote

Established the previous October, cattle were grazed in three different grazing periods running from February 25 to May 8. Across the grazing periods, cattle on the mixture of annual ryegrass and FIXatioN Balansa Clover outperformed the other pastures due to the higher nutritional value with an ADG of 2.65 pounds per day, for a 0.16 pound per day advantage over the annual ryegrass monoculture.

The annual ryegrass and balansa mixture also outperformed the small grain mixtures, with a 0.53 pound per day advantage over the oat mixture and a 0.66 pound per day advantage over the wheat mixture.

Extend Grazing Season

“Throughout the 72-day trial, adding the high performing balansa clover to a pasture of annual ryegrass resulted in cattle gaining an additional 11.52 pounds. While the ADG of cattle grazing the small grain mixtures were not as high, these findings show how valuable the inclusion of balansa clover to these types of grazing systems can be in improving animal performance,” explains DeMasi. 

To find which forage tools are the best for a system, Dr Lane recommends outlining basic growth patterns specific to a region – for example, many parts of the country see a surge of growth in May, a drop off in the summer, and then another major growth surge in the late summer and early fall. 

“You’re not going to change that completely,” he notes. “But what you can do is increase the amount of forage on the shoulders of all those hopes.” 

Depending on the region, for fall planting, a mixture of cool-season grasses, such as annual ryegrass and small grains, and legumes can provide high quality, non-bloating biomass, adds DeMasi. 

“Cereal rye is a good winter-hardy option, with grazing potential that starts early in the fall and extends throughout the winter, while oats tend to provide easily digestible forage that is high in protein at the early part of the grazing season,” she says. “To maximize biomass potential and increase protein levels further, consider incorporate later maturing, low bloat annual legumes like balansa or berseem clovers into your system.”

Soil type also needs to be factored in. As Dr Lane points out, drier soil types warm up faster in the spring compared to those that are heavy with clay. Fields that have these drier soil types have the advantage to plant forages that come up in the early spring. In this case, he recommends using forages that come up very quickly like annual ryegrass. 

“That will give you forage before the rest of it really comes on,” he says. “So, you can add two to three weeks of grazing. That’s two or three weeks less hay you have to feed.”

This can also allow for stockpiling forages like tall fescue or brassicas, which can have standing forage well into the winter months.

Additional benefits

A longer-lasting stand of forage can also empower beef producers to set more of their own standards when it comes to marketing animals, note both DeMasi and Dr Lane.

At periods where the sale prices are bad for cull animals, they can be held onto longer without incurring the additional feed expense. And for operations that are looking to finish animals on grass, extending the season may provide more flexibility at times of buying and selling.

“Beef operations are vulnerable to many varying factors that are out of control such as extreme weather conditions hurting feed availability to unfortunate circumstances disrupting the supply chain. This year has been no exception and challenged many operations in ways they’ve never been challenged before,” concludes Dr Lane. “By creating a more resilient grazing system to cut down on the greatest production cost in their budget, beef producers will be in a much stronger position going forward.” 

– ENDS –
Editorial Note: 
Cover Crop Corner is an educational column from forage application company GO SEED and free for print or digital distribution by media outlets. We ask that attributions be made to GO SEED when published. For more information or to be added to the distribution list, please email laura@abccomms.co.uk.

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4 Effective Ways to Terminate Cover Crops

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There’s no question that cover crops have their benefits. After all, the right cover crop can improve nutrient availability and drainage while helping soils retain a healthy amount of moisture. It can also suppress weed growth, prevent erosion and soil compaction, and encourage beneficial insects and organisms to linger. 

However, there are times when you’ll need to clear the way for your cash crop. 

What do you do with a cover crop that has overstayed its welcome?

Consider using one of these four effective ways to terminate cover crops.

Winterkilling

winterkill terminate cover crops

Winterkilling, or natural termination, is the strategic use of cover crops that will naturally die off when hit by a hard freeze. With this method, there’s no need to take any direct action or worry about when to terminate. Winter does the work for you, leaving the crop residue in place on the field. 

While this hands-off approach to termination may seem simple, choosing the right cover crop for your area is essential.

Winterkilling requires minimal time, labor, and resources when compared to other methods of terminating cover crops. That creates the potential for substantial cost savings. 

However, it’s only suitable for certain climates, and you have far less control over the timing of the termination. Winterkilling also tends to provide both a shorter window of soil protection and a thinner layer of soil-conserving biomass.

Herbicides

herbicides terminate cover crops

Herbicides are chemical mixtures used to control undesirable vegetation. When using an herbicide program to terminate your cover crop, the plant is killed by an application of one or more herbicides at a specific time in its growth cycle. The optimal time varies by plant type, and the crop residue remains on the field unless you take action. 

What’s the trick for an effective herbicide program? 

As Purdue University explains, you’ll need to keep several factors in mind as you choose your herbicide and the time to apply it. Start by considering the cover crop species and its growth stage. Then, take into account the presence of any weed species. You’ll also need to consider the production crop that you’re planting. Finally, you’ll need to think about the weather on the day of application.

Using herbicides gives you more control over the timetable of your cover crop termination, but it’s imperative that you’re always thinking ahead when you use them. After all, the product that you apply today could limit your options for planting in that field tomorrow. Residues from certain herbicides can linger in the soil for weeks after an application. To avoid problems, you’ll want to terminate with an herbicide that will take out the cover crop without negatively impacting the cash crop that you’re planting next.

Mowing

Mowing is a quick way to mechanically terminate a cover crop. The blade cuts through the plant’s stem, leaving the root in place and the residue on the field. 

The nature of the cut depends on the mower used.

  • Sickle-bar mowers cut close to the surface
  • Rotary mowers cut higher
  • Flail mowers use double-edged blades that produce a finer residue that is more evenly distributed across the field’s surface and decomposes faster.

Mowing is popular and speedy, but as The Ohio State University indicates, its results can be unpredictable. Cover crop regrowth can be a problem, especially when it creates competition with cash crops for limited resources. 

The chopped residues left behind by the mower’s blades also decompose more quickly than the intact residues left behind by other methods. As a result, they’re less effective as mulch.

Roller Crimping

Rolling-crimping offers another form of mechanical termination. Here, hollow steel drums crush plants before blunt blades on the cylinder crush, or crimp, their stems. As Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education reports, you’ll generally act when cover crops are in a reproductive stage. However, there are exceptions. 

Some, like sorghum, produce better results if you wait to terminate until they’re mature. When rolling-crimping is done at the right time, the residue remains rooted in place. It forms a thick, unidirectional surface mulch that decomposes more slowly than mulches that have been chopped up by mowers.

Rolling-crimping creates an ideal environment for no-till planting because it creates a thick biomass that shields the soil and prevents weed growth. As Penn State Extension says, the keys to success with this method lie in crop selection and timing. 

For starters, you’ll want to select an annual variety. In addition, you’ll want to check that the cover crop you’re considering responds well to roller-crimping. Then, you’ll want to weigh the matter of timing carefully. Regrowth can be an issue if you don’t. 

What if you have a mix of cover crops in one field? It’s generally best to use the latest-maturing species as your guide. Used independently, rolling-crimping is a useful approach for organic operations. When desired, it can also be combined with herbicides.

Offsetting the Costs of Cover Crop Termination

When you’re searching for financial or technical assistance with resource management, The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service can be a useful ally. 

If you’re just getting started with cover crops, check out the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. With EQIP, participants can receive financial assistance for taking steps like implementing a cover crop program that improves agricultural operations while simultaneously leading to healthier soil and cleaner water and air. Meanwhile, those who would like financial support for an existing cover crop program might find it with the Conservation Stewardship Program. Depending on your operation’s location, you may also find support for your efforts from state or local programs.

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How Treating Bees Like Livestock Can Benefit Any Agricultural System

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Are bees like livestock? Bees play an integral part in the food chain. Here’s how any agricultural system can create beneficial pollinator habitats.

From livestock feed crops like alfalfa and clover to produce like blueberries and melons, commercial production of more than 100 US grown crops rely on bee pollination.

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), indicate pollinators affect 35 percent of global agricultural land, contributing between $235 – $577 billion a year to global crops directly relying on pollinators. A recent study from Rutgers University puts that figure at $50 billion per year in the US alone.

bees like livestock not wildlife
A recent study from Rutgers University indicates pollinators contribute $50 billion per year in the US alone. By getting creative with cover crop integration and management on land with low productivity, agricultural producers can provide beneficial habitats for pollinators.

“Bees in particular are the most productive pollinators, serving as a key player in the food chain,” says Brent Jones, head of GO SEED’s Iowa Research Farm. “Yet in the last couple of decades, the bee population has significantly suffered, directly threatening global food production.”

According to the USDA, this decline is largely due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), resulting in colonies abandoning immature bees and food supply. A wide range of factors such as diseases, nutritional deficits, habitat loss, and climate variability has been attributed to this. The intensification of agricultural production leading to the decline of crop diversity has also been attributed to CCD.

Lessons from a science teacher turned vegetable farmer turned beekeeper

Cory Klehlm Bee Livestock Keeper

Integrating cover crops with varying blooming dates and high nutritional content significantly improved the health of Cory Klehm’s bee colony. In return, his vegetable farm saw yield improvements due to the increased pollination.

Growing up on a conventional corn and soybean farm in Iowa, Cory Klehm kept his interest in food production as he pursued a fulfilling career as a teacher. Twenty-six years later, present day finds him as the science teacher at Fairfield Middle School in the southeast part of his home state.

Fifteen years ago, Klehm and his wife, Shawn, purchased 24-acres of land to convert into an organic vegetable farm. With his background in conventional farming and a curiosity for science, Klehm wanted to try his hand at growing vegetables “as close as nature intended it” as possible.

“We started the vegetable farm to teach our three kids work ethic and introduce areas of education to their lives that only come with hands-on work from growing a crop and harvesting it to then selling it at a farmers market a couple of times a week,” he says.

With a specialty in heirloom produce, the family soon gained a local following for their produce, which includes zucchini, potatoes, garlic and basil to name a few, with their tomatoes holding the most notoriety.

A few years into the enterprise, Jones was picking up an order of tomatoes for his family and asked Klehm about his soil health program.

“After taking soil samples and assessing the soil profile – we had some areas with compaction and a surprising variety of soil types for 24-acres – we started to do some test strips to try different cover crops, min-till and no-till to see what worked. We scaled it gradually to where the majority of the farm is in cover crops today and we’re trying our first year of interseeding vegetables into standing cover crops,” says Klehm. “Cover cropping has had an amazing impact on our soil, reducing ponding issues in areas that historically had poor drainage and improving the overall soil structure.”

As the vegetable enterprise took off and Klehm watched his three children, Corynn, Reese and Khai, take away so many positive skills and experiences from their involvement, he saw another area of growth for his oldest son.

“My oldest was terrified of bees so when thinking of how to help him get over this fear, we enrolled together in a beekeeping class with the Southeast Iowa Beekeeping Association,” he says.

That spawned everything, says Klehm. Not only did his son overcome his fear of bees, but it would eventually benefit the farm’s vegetable output immensely.

Keeping the bees at home

Whenever a bee leaves its colony in search of food, it increases its risk for contracting a disease that it could bring back and wipe out the entire colony. It also opens the bee up for becoming exposed to crops that have been freshly sprayed which can be harmful. Wanting to reduce the amount of loss his colony was suffering and better reap the benefits of having bees on his own crops, Klehm realized he was going to have to find a way to keep his bees as close as home as possible. Jones and GO SEED had also been doing some research into cover crop management to support pollinator habitats and worked with Klehm to find a solution.

“The key to building a beneficial habitat for bees is to provide a constant food source which can be achieved by using a cover crop mixture with differing blooming dates so there was constantly something in bloom,” explains Jones. “On Cory’s farm, we fall planted a mix of annual clovers with different blooming dates and spring planted crops like phacelia, buckwheat and sunflowers to bloom after the annual clovers are done.”

To say it was a success is an understatement. Not only were the bees staying on the farm and not traveling for miles in search of food, but his crop yields were seeing the benefit of improved pollination. While Klehm notes he never created a thorough scientific trial with controls and variable measurements, anecdotally, he attributes the bees staying at home to a 30 percent increase in crop yield, with his tomatoes seeing the biggest benefit.

“At one point in time we had 3,000 tomato plants and were pulling 400-500 pounds of tomatoes every other day,” he says. “I’ve never seen plants with so many tomatoes. It was unreal.”

From a beekeeper’s perspective, the new approach was supporting the colony like never before.

“We had swarms three times, which only happens when your population is exploding so the bees divide themselves to start a new colony with a new queen. I had never had it happen before,” explains Klehm. “Along with the growing population, the colonies were extremely healthy and producing more honey in 30 days than my first hive did in a year.”

Treat bees like livestock

While crop diversity is important to provide bees with a continual feed source, the crop must also meet a bee’s nutritional requirements to keep it healthy and productive, says Jerry Hall, director of research for GO SEED.

“Bees need at least 20-25 percent pollen crude protein, with a colony consuming between 55-122 pounds of pollen per year, and have required values of 10 different amino acids,” explains Hall. “We need to think of pollinators more as livestock and plant ‘forage’ to match up to their needs from both a timing and nutritional quality. Not all pollen is of the same quality.  Most often it will take more than one type of forage to provide all the nutritional needs.” 

For example, sunflowers, what most would think is good food for pollinators, only have 13-19 percent crude protein, while the likes of balansa clover, white clover and hairy vetch average around 25 percent.

The game-changer for Klehm’s colonies was the introduction of high protein clovers, which exceeded both crude protein and amino acid requirements, providing excess nutrition.

The success experienced at Klehm’s farm is not unique, with a 2016 trial by NRCS-CIG seeing success in the conservation of bee pollinators when integrating clovers into pastures in western Oregon.

Planting a mix of 22 different plant species at a rate of 4-5 pounds per acre across four ranches, trial and control pastures were monitored every 1-2 weeks for two years. In the first year, 16 species of native bees were observed in the seeded pastures and only three in the control. The following year, 22 species of native bees were found in the seeded pastures and 10 were found in the control.

Integrating Pollinator Habitats Into Agricultural Systems

Whether it’s a vineyard, orchard, livestock ranch or commodity crop farm, there is a lot of opportunity for any agricultural system to integrate pollinator habitats without disrupting the production of their main enterprise.

To identify which cover crop species are flowering in their area, Hall recommends producers start by making a chart (see Pastures for Pollinators example) that outlines blooming dates so mixtures can be planned to provide consistent feed.

“A great resource is pasturesforpollinators.com, which has a blooming chart of common cover crop species. While the dates of flowering can change from year to year based on climatic conditions, the order of flowering remains fairly consistent,” says Hall.

While it is essential crops reach maturity to provide pollinators with food, this may present a challenge to row croppers who need to terminate a cover crop before it goes to seed. Management of the pollinator crop also needs to be done with bees in mind, avoiding pesticides and limiting herbicide use.

“Some farmers may be able to let cover crops grow longer by planting early with strip-till or rows that winterkilled. Perennial clovers are also an option, with ongoing research on white clover showing potential,” explains Hall.

Management friendly options include planting pollinator cover crops non/low productive land like gullies, terraces, borders, waterways and woodlands.

“Creating productive pollinator habitats don’t have to disrupt your system or take up huge areas of land,” adds Jones. “Get creative and look at areas of your farm that could do better as something different.”

Opportunities available

For farmers and ranchers looking to improve pollinator habitats, there are a number of opportunities available. If they wish to host hives, a good first step is reaching out to local beekeeper organizations.

There are also several government funded conservation programs through the likes of NRCS that can provide producers with funding.

“Pollinators play such an important role in the success of commercial agriculture and the world’s food production. No matter what type of system you operate, it is directly impacted by pollinators and directly impacts pollinators,” concludes Klehm. “No matter how big or small of an acreage you have, it is our responsibility as food producers and environmental stewards to support these vital organisms.”

Cover Crop Corner is a new educational column from forage application company Grassland Oregon and free for print or digital distribution by media outlets. To be added to the distribution list, please email laura@abccomms.co.uk

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9 Pieces Of Cover Crop Advice For Ag High School And College Graduates

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Six years into her career, Sarah Houin looks back on her academic journey to offer cover crop advice to upcoming high school and college graduates interested in working in the cover crop industry

cover crop advice for students from Sarah Houin
Six years after graduating from Purdue with a degree in agronomic business and marketing, Sarah Houin has found herself working for Co-Alliance in Argos, Ind. Still close to her college days and past the point of being an entry-level employee, she has a lot of advice to offer high school and college students as they approach graduation.

It’s been six years since Sarah Houin walked across the graduation stage at Purdue to receive her diploma for a degree in agronomic business and marketing.

A farm kid from a cattle, hog and row crop family enterprise in southern Indiana, present day finds Houin as a crop consultant with a specialty in cover crops for Co-Alliance in the northern part of the state.

While in many ways her career is just getting started, she’s amassed a notable amount of experience since leaving her hometown 10 years ago through building a college resume to gain relevant work experience to landing her first job straight after college graduation.

As high school and college students prepare to graduate and think about their future careers, Houin has nine pieces of advice to pass on.

Cover Crop Advice For Ag Students

Don’t feel like you’re locked into your major – or school

A self-proclaimed nature lover, the environment has always been a passion of Houin’s. This made it a natural fit for her to attend the University of Indiana following high school to study environmental sciences – or so she thought.
 
“When deciding on majors and schools, I thought going the environmental route was something I wanted to do without the boots on the ground farming component of it all,” she says. “But something I quickly realized within my first semester was how much I missed the agricultural industry. In environmental sciences, you’re talking about agriculture in some areas of work, but you’re not really involved in it wholeheartedly.”
 
As Houin points out, moving away from home and going to school is already a huge transition, so students shouldn’t stress if they feel like they’ve made the wrong decisions in their study area as they get familiar with their new life chapter.
 
“I finished out my first year and then transferred to Purdue to study agronomic business and marketing. I loved the change to Purdue and the agricultural classes they offered – changing direction was the right choice,” she says.

Diversify your class schedule

Differing from her original path of environmental sciences, Houin’s degree choice was a result of not knowing exactly what she wanted to study.
 
“My degree was basically in agronomy, so very heavy in chemistry classes with a few marketing classes mixed in,” she says.
 
While marketing is not something she would have typically gravitated towards, she found the diversity to be a surprisingly useful area of education. This has led her to advocate for students to not stick strictly to their major curriculum and look for classes that offer practical and useful skills that can be translated into different aspects of life.
 
“At the time, a few of the marketing classes felt like I was just going through the motions, but they made me start thinking outside of the box and thinking more creatively,” she says. “This has been very beneficial to make me more marketable when working on the sales side of things later in my career.”

Try to get a job during the school year linked to the industry you want to go into

Even if a student is in a fortunate enough position to not need to work while in school, Houin strongly advises everyone to try and get a part-time job related to their industry to start gaining work experience in that field. For her, this looked like working in a genetics lab sorting corn samples and working as an agronomy teacher’s advisor.
 
“When it comes to landing internships and jobs post-graduation, work experience is essential. Gain as much experience in your field as possible to set yourself apart from others,” she says. “While I wasn’t doing any high-level stuff, I started to build a record of being a dependable employee and experience in different areas of the industry. This helped me get a leg up on opportunities at a younger age because I was 20-years-old with three years of relevant experience in agriculture.”

Take internships

“Classes and getting decent grades are important but internships are priceless for hands-on learning,” says Houin.
 
The first internship is typically the hardest for college students to get due to having limited work experience and many ag companies prioritizing juniors and seniors to find future employees. Houin was able to get her foot in the door by leveraging a relationship with the local Co-Op to scout fields for the summer. The following two years, she secured summer internships with Dow and Cargill based on previous work experience and being open to temporarily relocating out of state.
 
“At that age, moving out of state can push people outside of their comfort zones – but that is a good thing! Aside from it creating more opportunities for work experience, you learn so much more about yourself and what you are capable of,” she says.
 
Houin also advises students to not be too particular about what internships they will and won’t do.
 
“I took part in Cargill’s crop scouting program, which wasn’t the most glamorous job, but I learned so much practical information. This led to Cargill offering me a job once I graduated,” she says. “Don’t be rigid about location and internship responsibilities. This is a priceless opportunity for you to gain real-life work experience and for a potential employer to test you out.”

Network

As part of internship programs and industry related jobs during the school year, Houin encourages students to build a network of professionals and fellow students to keep up with since many job opportunities occur through word of mouth.
 
“Also, join field-related organizations at your school and put yourself out there – you have nothing to lose!” she says.

Broaden your horizons

Especially for in-state students, when a student attends a school in the same or similar type of area they grew up in, it is easy to have a narrower focus on how things are done. For Houin, her eyes were opened and her mindset changed after studying abroad in Europe and seeing how different parts of the world farm.
 
“This was an amazing experience. I was able to see the challenges and benefits of the different climates they had and what their opportunity limits were. What struck me is that they are making a living on fewer acres by incorporating more diversity – which is something that stuck with me,” she says. “It showed me that there are a lot of opportunities to separate yourself and your operation from the rest by not just growing yellow number two corn.”

Learn to think for yourself

In the same line of broadening horizons, Houin advocates for students to listen to their professors and keep up with what is happening in the industry, but to form their own opinion and thought process on matters.
 
This is where her journey into cover crops really began.
 
I did a lot of my own research because whether you’re in college or working in the industry itself, things can be very one-sided for how everyone’s used to doing things because a lot of times it is working and producing food. But then I started to look at things differently – we need to produce food, but we need to do it in a way that is not deteriorating our soil,” she says.
Where Houin found success in this process was absorbing as much as possible from her classes and comparing it with research in different areas and practices implemented across the country in specific areas such as weed control.
 
“I took a lot of chemistry courses and learned a lot about chemical applications and would ask the question of ‘what are they doing differently?’ when coming across different operations. It is really important to learn both sides of the industry so you can know what you don’t like and what makes sense to you. You have to be able to argue each side if you want to be successful,” explains Houin.

Be realistic with your first job

Two common mistakes Houin has seen when students enter the workforce are taking whatever job pays the most or holding out on accepting a position to find their “dream job.”
 
“You may think you know what you want to do, but until you are doing it you have no idea. And even if you do land your dream job, it might not turn out like you think it will,” she says. “Accepting a job doesn’t mean you are signing up for 20 years at a company, it is ok to move on if it isn’t a good fit. But be mindful of the investment it takes for them to hire someone so don’t be flighty and hop from one place to the next.”
 
While a high salary figure will be attractive for many students graduating and being monetarily driven isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Houin advises students to weigh out the pros and cons before making a decision purely based on money.
 
“Are you going to be required to move a lot and if so, will that fit in with your personal life? Will you actually enjoy what you will be doing or are you simply in it for the money? These are questions to seriously think about because it won’t be sustainable if it makes you miserable,” she says.

Build and maintain a trustworthy reputation

In a tightknit industry, reputation can help pave the way to success as much as it can block opportunities. As high school students enter into college and start networking with professors, fellow students and companies during internships, Houin advises them to start to build and maintain a reputation for being reliable and trustworthy – and to continue to foster that throughout their career.
 
“It is such a small industry that you will continue to run into people you know in a variety of professional settings,” she says. “If you’re the kind of person that people know they can trust and rely on, it will open a lot of doors.”

The future is bright

For students interested in going into agriculture with a specific focus on cover crops and taking a more holistic approach to food production, Houin believes the future is bright.

“Things are changing and people are realizing there are ways to protect and improve resources while remaining profitable,” concludes Houin. “It’s not about taking all we can get, it’s about creating a symbiotic relationship; mutualism.”

Cover Crop Corner is a new educational column from forage application company Grassland Oregon and free for print or digital distribution by media outlets. To be added to the distribution list, please email laura@abccomms.co.uk

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Extend Your Grazing Season To Add Value To Cull Cows

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Using late-maturing clovers to extend your grazing season has more than just financial benefits

extend your grazing season with legumes
Livestock producers in southern and more mild regions of the US still have time to extend their grazing season. For fall planting, a mixture of cool-season grasses, including annual ryegrass and small grains, with legumes will provide high quality, non-bloating biomass through the following spring.

Feed, especially during the wintertime, is the biggest cost of production for cow-calf operations. Therefore, we often see the cull cow market dive at this time of the year as producers haul open cows to the sale barn rather than feeding them for another year without a return. Historically, we see cull cow prices hold value from February to August, and then drop from October through December.

As cows are brought in from summer pastures and we enter the peak of the culling period, there’s still a window of time for southern and more mild regions to extend their grazing season to avoid the sale barn glut.
Dr. Rocky Lemus, a forage specialist with Mississippi State University Extension Service, is one of the leading experts in extending grazing seasons for beef farms in the south where feed costs typically make up 50-60 percent of the cost of production.

Below, he shares his insight into grazing platforms specifically developed to help producers take advantage of unsaturated market conditions.

Tools To Extend Your Grazing Season

For fall planting, a mixture of cool-season grasses, including annual ryegrass and small grains, with legumes will provide high quality, non-bloating biomass through the following spring.

However, varieties and species must be selected on the grazing platform’s unique environment since air and soil temperature, soil type, and moisture availability are going to determine which tools are best for an individual system.

For best germination and plant development, Dr. Lemus says planting should take place when soil temperatures are between 50°F and 65°F, which usually occur when daytime air temperatures are between 60°F and 75°F. Plant too early in summer conditions and plants may go dormant or die to exposure to fungal diseases – plant too late and they may have inconsistent germination and poor root development.

When selecting the best small grain pasture grass to include in the mixture, there are four main options for producers to choose from. Key traits are listed in an index from MSU in order of least desirable to most: Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Excellent.

Cereal Rye

cereal rye extend grazing season

The most winter-hardy option with the good grazing potential that starts in early fall and extends throughout the winter.

  • Excellent tolerance to low pH soils
  • Good tolerance to wet soils
  • Very good tolerance to drought
  • Very good disease tolerance
  • Very good grazing potential
  • Average seasonal biomass production of 2,677 lbs. dry matter per acre across four locations in Mississippi

Oats

oats to extend grazing season

Least winter-hardy option, with the most tolerance to wet soils. Early growth is high in protein and easily digestible.

  • Fair tolerance to low pH soils
  • Good tolerance to wet soils
  • Fair tolerance to drought
  • Very good tolerance to disease
  • Good early grazing potential
  • Average seasonal biomass production of 2,693 lbs. dry matter per acre across four locations in Mississippi

Triticale

triticale to extend grazing seaso

A cross between wheat and rye that retains the palatability of wheat and vigor of rye. However, it is not very cold tolerant, and seed can be difficult to obtain.

  • Good tolerance to low pH soils
  • Very good tolerance to wet soils
  • Good tolerance to drought
  • Very good disease tolerance
  • Good early grazing potential
  • Average seasonal biomass production of 2,523 lbs. dry matter per acre across four locations in Mississippi.

Wheat

wheat to extend grazing seaso

Dependable and adapted to a range of climates. Is very grazing tolerant and provides high quality forage.

  • Poor tolerance to low pH soils
  • Poor tolerance to wet soils
  • Fair drought tolerance
  • Good disease tolerance
  • Fair early grazing potential
  • Average seasonal biomass production of 2,551 lbs. dry matter per acre across four locations in Mississippi.

Adding a legume

legume extend grazing season

To get more bang for your buck in forage yield and quality increases, incorporating nitrogen-fixing and later maturing annual legumes such as balansa or berseem clovers will increase protein levels and biomass potential in the spring.

In 2018, Dr. Lemus measured forage biomass of oat, Lonestar annual ryegrass and wheat pastures which were broadcasted with FIXatioN balansa clover at a rate of 10 pounds per acre for two grazing periods of March 10 to April 9 and April 30 to May 17.

Wheat produced the most forage with 1,459 pounds DM per acre in period one, and 1,850 pounds DM per acre in period two. Oats followed with 1,278 pounds DM per acre in period one and 1,771 pounds DM per acre in period two. While the annual ryegrass mixture did see an increase from 1,218 pounds DM per acre in period one to 1,408 pounds DM per acre in period two, it produced almost 700 pounds DM per acre less than wheat.

According to Dr. Lemus, the biomass increase seen across all the cool-season grass systems was due to the later maturity of FIXatioN balansa clover, which provided a high quantity of forage into mid-May after the cool season grasses began to decline. Another good late-maturing option is Frosty berseem clover, which has similar physical and feeding characteristics of alfalfa, but boasts significant cold tolerance. When selecting one of these clovers, balansa provides greater reseeding potential benefits over berseem clover.

With both varieties bred to fixing high amounts of nitrogen, nitrogen fertilizer application can be dialed back to 25 units per acre to get the cool season grass going before the clover starts producing in early spring.

Just as important, the inclusion of clover has also had a positive effect on cattle performance. In a 2019 trial, cattle grazing mixtures containing 10 pounds of FIXatioN balansa clover with 60 pounds of small grains or 25 pounds of ryegrass were compared against a cattle grazing a monoculture of ryegrass seeded at 30 pounds per acre that received nitrogen.

Cattle on the control pasture of just ryegrass and nitrogen gained 330 pounds per acre. Cattle grazing wheat and balansa gained 318 pounds per acre, while cattle on the balansa and oat pasture gained 360 pounds per acre. The mixture with the greatest cattle performance was the ryegrass and balansa pasture that gained 437 pounds per acre. The ryegrass and balansa mixture also had the greatest return with a $112 per acre advantage.

Establishment and seeding rates

For seeding rates, small grains are uniform at 60-90 pounds per acre when included in a mixture of annual ryegrass at 15-25 pounds per acre. Balansa clover and berseem clovers both have very small seeds and should be included at 3-5 pounds per acre and 5-10 pounds per acre, respectively.
If broadcasting, seed rates should be at the higher end of the spectrum and can be spread with fertilizer, except for nitrogen. To increase germination, lightly disk soil beforehand.

When no-till drilling or planting into a prepared seedbed, seed rates can be dialled back. No-till drills should be set to plant about 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch deep for good seed to soil contact.

If anything, consider overseeding legumes

If colder days are quickly approaching and limiting the options you have for this year, at the very least, overseeding existing pastures with a legume is an effective and quick way to give forage production an extra kick come springtime.

With a little strategic planning and the use of species and varieties chosen based on unique environmental challenges, there’s huge potential to put more dollars in your pocket by having marketing flexibility. So, rather than your forages running dry and cows going to market at the same time as all of your neighbors, you can cost-effectively hold on to them until price conditions improve.

Cover Crop Corner is a new educational column from forage application company Grassland Oregon and free for print or digital distribution by media outlets. To be added to the distribution list, please email laura@abccomms.co.uk

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Affordable Options For Planting Green Equipment

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Two experienced cover croppers share their varying approaches to green planting equipment setups

The practice of planting a cash crop directly into an immediately terminated or growing cover crop has gained a lot of popularity in recent years as producers look for ways to work through tough spring planting conditions and maximize the benefits of cover crops, says Brent Jones, Iowa Research Farm Manager for GO SEED (Twitter @GOSeed).

While this has resulted in a lot of new information being made available regarding things like which cover crop species work best with which cash crop and termination strategies, there’s a huge misconception that planting green requires significant equipment investments.

Here we’ll present a few affordable options for planting green equipment.

“Work that GO SEED has done with producers and conversations had with industry experts has shown that many people are hesitant to even consider planting green due to the belief that it is going to require them to make huge upfront equipment investments for a practice they don’t even know will work for them,”

Brent Jones, Iowa Research Farm Manager for GO SEED (Twitter @GOSeed).

“This is certainly not the case, with many producers taking a bootstrapping approach by tailoring planting practices and cover crop specie selection to work with existing equipment, or by taking the welder out and making modifications for a custom planter to work for them.”

To give producers ideas of how they can utilize existing equipment as is or make customizations, two experienced cover croppers give insight below.

Customization

Loran Steinlage, FLOLOfarms, West Union, Iowa

planting green equipment
Skilled in engineering, Loran Steinlage of FLOLOfarms in Iowa built his own drill using Dawn DuoSeed Cover Crop Inter-Seeder row units on a custom frame fit with a MonTag seed/fertilizer box. Photo courtesy of Loran Steinlage

Farm Background:

Making the most of the short 140 growing days per year in northeast Iowa has required Loran Steinlage of FLOLOfarms to cheat the system to encourage earlier spring growth and to maintain a living crop in the ground 365 days of the year for the 750-acre farm.

“Traditionally, we were corn on corn and then corn on soybeans, but we started to evolve to companion relay cropping in 2014,” says Steinlage. “This allows us to focus on cycling plants to keep a living plant in the soil at all times to help aid in moisture management and weed suppression. Not only does this help pay the bills quicker, but it has allowed us to start planting green in a tough climate.”

For FLOLOfarms, planting green with a relay crop looks like doing a precision establishment of cover crops in the autumn following harvest and then interseeding the cash crop in the spring. However, instead of terminating the cover crop at or shortly after planting the cash crop like most traditional methods, Steinlage delays termination to maximise its benefits.

“For example, in the autumn, we’ll plant a field planned for soybeans to cereal rye. By the time we are ready for spring planting, that cover crop will only be 2-3 inches tall so delaying termination will not only allow us to take advantage of the biological benefits of the cover crop, but also its harvest potential,” he says. “Really, we are planting green and harvesting green.”

After several seasons of learning to push the limits of his system, Steinlage is ready this year to start a relay of corn and beans and vegetables with cereal rye and buckwheat – giving him five crops in two years.

“At the moment, the field is in cereal rye. This spring, we’ll plant it with corn and let the cereal rye stand until June 15. At that point, we’ll roll-crimp the cereal rye with an inter-roller to suppress it and then plant in a mix of vegetables including peas, string beans and squash, with the goal to harvest them before the corn.

Since we suppressed instead of terminated, the cereal rye will still be in the field. We will then interseed that field with beans next April – ideally, we will harvest those two crops at the same time,” he says. “If conditions allow, our next cover crop after that will be buckwheat which will act as an insectary for the following soybean crop.”

Planting Green Equipment

Drill – Dawn DuoSeed Cover Crop Inter-Seeder row units on a custom frame

Skilled in engineering, Steinlage built 10 drills before settling on a Dawn DuoSeed Cover Crop Inter-Seeder row units on a custom frame fitted with a MonTag seed/fertilizer box in 2016.

“Once I had a drill dialed in and figured out, I’d already be looking ahead to the next one,” he says. “This home build setup is simple, effective and versatile,” he says. “We can seed with it. We can put fertilizer down with it. Essentially that is the tool that made it all flow,” he says.

According to Steinlage, Dawn DuoSeed Cover Crop Inter-Seeder row units have been ideal due to being very low disturbance.

“You have to be careful with a lot of openers because the disturbance they cause will end up seeding weeds in with your interseed, which is the biggest thing most people struggle with,” he says. “We’ve found minimal soil disturbance to result in the best soil to seed contact. You really have to treat it like a cash crop.”

In-row roller – Dawn InRowl Roller

Through his customization work, Steinlage has gone on to work with Dawn Equipment to help develop and test new projects. A recent one was the development of the InRowl Roller – designed specifically to suppress rather than termination.

“Suppression is really important to us to support an organic system by maintaining the residue mat. By doing this, I only recently terminated clover than has been in the line since 2016,” he says.

Piece of advice:

Before anyone invests any money into equipment for planting green, Steinlage stresses the importance of getting the principles right first. And when the time is right to make upgrades, start simple and stay within budget.

For those already planting green, he advises to keep evolving and to not get locked in the same mindset.

“While something may be the best option right now, that will not always be the case as you continue to understand how you can push things further. The best explanation I heard for this recently is that we are building the plane as we’re flying it.”

For both parties, he recommends producers find a mentor that is planting green on scale – even if it is just someone to follow on Twitter – who will show you the good, bad and ugly.

“Use others to get ideas and then tailor them for what will work for you and your overall business,” he says.

Follow Steinlage on Twitter @FLOLOfarms

Using what’s available

Andrew Reuschel, Reuschel Farms, Golden, Illinois

Andrew Reuschel of Reuschel Farms in Ill., uses 1986 Kenzie 2600 and 1993 John Deere planters with double discs and two press wheels to plant green. As long as the cover crop is green at planting, these planters will cut through it like butter, he says. Photo courtesy of Andrew Reuschel.

Farm background:

Starting in the 70s, Reuschel Farms near Golden, Ill., started its first experiment with cover crops and no-till on its 1,200 acre corn and soybean operation. After a break, the Reuschel family gave cover crops another try in the early 90s. Admittedly, says fifth generation Andrew Reuschel (Twitter @AReuschel), the evolution of where they started to where they are today has not always been a pretty one.

“In the early days, I wouldn’t even classify what we were doing as cover cropping because we weren’t getting any of the benefits. At one point, we were using 3lbs of turnips with 3lbs of radishes per acre – that was insanity. We were going backward on what we wanted to achieve,” recalls Reuschel. “But it was a learning process we had to work through to get to where we are today.”

The turning point was in 2010 when the decision was made to transition from brassicas to grass-based mixtures, allowing the farm to start capturing soil health benefits.

Through continuous refining of practices and strategic decisions to achieve specific goals, present day finds Reuschel planting the entire farm green with management decisions dictated by Mother Nature instead of calendar dates. So far, this has allowed him to delay termination every year.

“For soybeans being planted into cereal rye, I plant when I plant and terminate when I terminate – the two things are separate in my mind,” he says.

While managed separately, he relies on soil moisture and the 10-day forecast for both.

“It is all about managing the variables. If things are getting hot and dry, I will have a look at the 10-day forecast to see how long I can wait until I have to terminate to maximize biomass growth, but without hurting my soil or younger plants,” he says. “If the beans are in the V1 to V2 stage and the cereal rye hasn’t headed yet but is just whipping out moisture, I will go knock it down and beat it up just to buy myself a few more days before having to chemically terminate.”

Data collected on farm show that soybean yield has a conservative 2bu per acre advantage when cereal rye is knocked down when beans reach the V2 stage, allowing for a lot of management flexibility. For corn on the other hand, which is planted into a cover crop cocktail, data shows that the cover crop needs to be knocked down and terminated at the time of planting.

“We can plant, roll and chem in any order, but the cover crop must be terminated before corn starts to emerge to give it immediate access to sunlight,”

Andrew Reuschel, Reuschel Farms near Golden, Ill.

To avoid wrapping issues when planting green, cash crops must be planted in the same direction a swath was rolled. For Reuschel, it is much simpler to plant green into a standing cover crop and then knock it down.

“Along with being able to knock the crop down without the need for GPS and maintaining perfect swath widths ahead of the planter, this also allows reels to ride on top of the soil to avoid inconsistent seed depths with inconsistent areas of biomass – another lesson learned the hard way,” says Reuschel.

Planting Green Equipment

Soybean planter – 1986 Kenzie 2600 planter with double discs and two press gauge wheels

Corn planter – 1993 John Deere 7200 planter with double discs and two press gauge wheels

When Reuschel Farms ventured into planting green, they wasted no time or money on frills and put their 1986 Kenzie 2600 and 1993 John Deere planters with double discs and two press wheels to work.

“We have the two planters since beans are planted in 15 inch spacings and corn in 30 inch spacings,” he says. “Aside from color, these are essentially the exact same models. These planters are 100% standard and good to go without any modifications. As long as the cover crop is green, these planters will just slide through it like butter. It doesn’t get any more bone stock than this.”

Roller – 20 foot I & J Cover-Crop Roller

To terminate, Reuschel rents a 20 foot I & J Cover-Crop Roller from his neighbor.

“Since it is 20 foot, it is the perfect setup to use when crimping ahead of corn. And the best part an I & J roller crimper is that hairy vetch sees it – which is notorious for wrapping – it lays down,” he says. “This really is the Cadillac of termination tools.”

Crumbling basket – Designed as a stubble tillage tool, Reuschel started renting his neighbor’s crumbling basket to terminate cereal rye and has recently purchased one of his own.

“It doesn’t do as good of a job as the I & J roller crimper, but it is much more cost-effective to rent and is effective at knocking cereal rye over,” he says.

Equipment not worth the hassle:

Residue managers – After trying multiple residue managers that have all caused huge issues with wrapping, Reuschel has found it is best to keep things simple and to leave them off.

Roller crimper planter attachment – Starting out planting green, Reuschel had his sights on eventually attaching a roller crimper to the planter to do everything in one pass. However, the more he learns about the importance of keeping planting and termination separate, particularly for soybeans, the more he is losing interest in one.

Piece of advice:

Five years into evolving his planting green system, Reuschel’s biggest piece of advice is to build flexibility and options into the entire system.

“You need to be able to make a decision at the absolute last moment you can to maximize what you’re trying to achieve because you can’t see into the future and know what conditions are going to be like two months from now,” he says.

But most importantly, he says to learn from mistakes.

“You will screw up. However, you will learn more from screwing it up than you ever could have by getting it right,” he concludes. “Keep evolving and learning new things. You’ll be amazed at how much you will be able to achieve.”

Follow Reuschel on Twitter @AReuschel

Making the most of a cover crop

While the practice of planting green is an innovative management strategy to maximize the benefits of cover crops, producers can take it a step further by tailoring variety and specie selections to support the system and subsequent cash crop.

“Selecting a variety with a later maturing date will allow for greater management flexibility so the cover crop can be terminated when best for the system rather than working around early heading dates,” says Jones.

Varieties also allow for producers to take advantage of specific traits, such as cold tolerance or nitrogen production, that can help a farm overcome unique geographical challenges and target nutrient benefits at the subsequent crop.

If producers plan to harvest a cover crop, Jones advises them to work with their seed suppliers to ensure compliance is maintained for any government programs they may be part of, and plant variety protections are not infringed.

“Certain USDA programs like EQIP, have specific harvest and utilization guidelines that must be followed to avoid being disqualified,” concludes Jones. “Using innovative management practices and genetic traits are a great way to make the most of your cover crop, but make sure they are used in a way that don’t jeopardize other critical areas of your system.”

Cover Crop Corner is a new educational column from forage application company Grassland Oregon and free for print or digital distribution by media outlets. To be added to the distribution list, please email laura@abccomms.co.uk

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Myth-busting 8 common beliefs about cover crops

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Rob Myers, Director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at University of Missouri, and Jerry Hall, Director of Research for GO SEED, are myth-busting eight of the most common cover crop misconceptions.

Myths surrounding cover crops typically fall into one of two camps. The first camp is that of detriment, with concerns about available moisture being sucked up in a drought prone area or fear that cash crop yields will be hurt. The second is misplaced expectations — placing cover crops on a pedestal as the Holy Grail to simultaneously fix every production woe.

1. There will be interference with cash crop production

myth-busting corn with cover crops
Corn planted in cover crop residue (FIXatioN Balansa Clover)

“This is the most common myth out there. Understandably, farmers have a lot of acres to plant in the spring and need to do it when the weather window is right,” explains Myers.

From data collected in the 2019-2020 National Cover Crop Survey, conducted by the non-profit Conservation Technology Information Center, farmers utilizing cover crops were found to often plant earlier following a cover crop due to an improvement in field conditions. This was evident in 2019 when 19 million acres were not able to be planted due to an oversaturated spring. Farmers that were planting green into a standing cover crop reported that they were often able to get into the field when their neighbors practicing conventional tillage were not. Sometimes the difference is just a few days, but every day counts in a busy spring planting season.

“Cover crops are very beneficial in building soil structure and internal drainage systems that help deal with heavy rainfall. The cover crops root systems create channels for precipitation to flow deeper into the soil, minimizing run-off,”

Rob Myers, Director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at University of Missouri

However, making sure a cover crop doesn’t interfere with cash crop production does come with consideration. If cover crop termination is timed wrong, planting can be delayed due to the decaying cover crops creating a wet mat across fields — termination timing is especially important to get right if the cover crop was high in biomass. First time users of cover crops may want to experiment with planting green on a modest acreage before making it a common practice.

2. Cash crop yields will take a hit

In a business running on tight margins, farmers looking to integrate cover crops into their systems are right to be concerned about the impact they can have on yield. The myth about cash crops seeing a reduction in yield following cover crops typically stems from issues seen when a monoculture of cereal rye is used before corn.

“A monoculture of cereal rye has a high carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N). As a result, the microbes in the soil will utilize the nitrogen applied during the sowing of corn so that it can break down the high C:N organic material from the cereal rye. The microbes will tie up nitrogen in the soil that the corn needs early on and the corn yield can suffer as result. To avoid yield losses in corn following cereal rye, be sure to provide extra nitrogen at the time of planting corn or sow other species with the cereal rye that have a lower C:N ration, such as clovers, peas, or vetch,” says Hall. “Terminating the rye early can also help avoid nitrogen tie-up issues and potential yield loss as the C:N ratio will increase as the plant matures and the percent lignin increases.”

Aside from adjusting nitrogen applications in a case like this, yield reductions can also be avoided by simply matching the cover crop life cycle and nutrient output to the cash crop.

“For example, soybean crops will benefit from nitrogen later in the growing season. If the soybean is following a high C:N cover crop such as rye the soybean plant will respond by forming a more robust root system and form greater nodulation and associations with rhizobia. This typically results in a small yield bump following cereal rye, with the yield difference increasing over a period of years as soil health and rhizobia population in the soil improves,” explains Hall. “As a rule of thumb, high C:N covers before legumes and low C:N covers should precede grains.”

More importantly, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater over this myth and keep the overall production picture in mind. According to Myers, taking a more holistic approach will not only allow input efficiency in the short term, but our data shows that it will improve productivity in the long term due to soil health improvements.

“Don’t expect miracles, but a 3-5% increase in yield after a few years of strategic cover crop use is not out of the question. Bigger yield benefits from cover crops will likely be seen in dry years and sometimes in excessively wet years, as cover crops improve the resiliency of the cropping system through soil improvements,” says Myers.

3. Water availability will be reduced for the subsequent crop

Decades ago, there were huge concerns about cover crops sucking up too much ground moisture, reducing availability for the subsequent cash crop. According to Myers, the improvements that cover crops contribute to soil resiliency make this concern no longer relevant for most producers. Diverse root structures will aid in water and nutrient circulation while helping soils drain. Higher levels of organic matter will also serve as a sponge to lock moisture into the soil.

“While the benefits are many, producers in areas with low annual rainfall or regular extended dry spells do need to manage cover crops based on weather patterns to ensure moisture availability is not an issue for the following crop,” explains Myers. “For example, if an area is heading into a dry spring, then it is best to terminate the cover crop early to ensure adequate soil availability ahead of planting. If weather conditions are going to be more saturated, then the cover crop can be allowed to keep growing longer and can help reduce excess soil moisture.

“With that being said, it is a smart practice for any producer in any part of the country to pay attention to weather when forming a cover crop termination strategy.”

4. New pests will be introduced

With the introduction of new species in a field, comes the concern of attracting new pests.

In certain regions, slugs are at the top of the list due to residues giving them an ideal environment but adopting different management strategies will help mitigate this. If a cover crop is terminated well ahead of planting and biomass disintegrates, slugs will likely go after the emerging cash crop.

“If termination happens at planting or shortly after, slugs will typically remain on the cover crop and damage to the emerging plants will be significantly reduced,” adds Myers. “Adjusting use of insecticide seed treatments can also allow for more ground beetles that are the natural control agent for slugs.”

Another pest that draws concern is voles. Their presence varies from county to county and even farm to farm, but increased residues from cover crops or no-till can cause a surge in population.

“Fieldwork is finding that planting things like crimson clover and brassicas tend to be less attractive to voles than the likes of winter cereals such as cereal rye. Another helpful tactic for thinning out the population is to encourage birds of prey to the area by providing field edge perches,” says Myers.

Perhaps the biggest concern regarding pests is the “green bridge.” The idea of a green bridge is that some insect or disease pests may feed on the cover crop and then move from the cover crop to attacking the emerging cash crop. While researchers are still studying how much of a problem this is, early indications show that there is less of an issue with insects jumping from the cover crop to a newly emerging crop if termination happens shortly after or immediately before planting the cash crop.

Fast forward to the 2:24 to hear more about green bridges

5. Soil temperatures will remain too cold

According to Myers, this myth originated from issues northern farmers were having when first starting no-tilling and soil temperatures were slow to warm up in the spring which eventually led to the adoption of strip-tilling in cooler regions.

While dead crop residue in a no-till system can keep soil temperatures cooler in spring, it is a different ball game once cover crops are introduced. Having a living and growing crop in the ground creates a respiration system that generates energy. The extra energy in the living cover crop system and active soil microbial system usually leads to soils that are comparable in temperature to tilled fields and warmer than no-till fields with no cover crops.

6. Pollinators will be fed

Bee’s pollinating spring flowers on the GO Research Farm in Salem, Oregon

Any cover crop can provide habitat for pollinator insects, but for pollinators to have food, they need cover crops that are allowed to reach the flowering stage. In the past, many cover crops were terminated before flowering. More recently, as farmers see the benefits of letting cover crops grow longer, some cover crops are at least briefly reaching the flowering stage before termination.

“Cover crop maturity is only part of the equation. To best support a thriving habitat for pollinators, we also need to provide more biodiversity. Sometimes that is possible to do with field borders, but it will be more effective if carried throughout the entire field,” says Myers.

To do this, he recommends planting a small grain with a multi-species cover crop “cocktail” that can provide pollen sources through the summer and into the fall. Such diverse blends of cover crops, if planned well with some high biomass species, can also help speed up the process of soil health improvements.

7. Seed is too expensive

Seed cost – not as simple as it seems

In 2012, the National Cover Crop Survey found cover crop seed to cost between $20-40 per acre with a median of $25 per acre. As time has gone on and management practices have improved, farmers have significantly economized through more efficient application and drilling. In the most recent survey, cover crop seed cost is now running between $15-20 per acre on average. Some producers get costs down to as low as $10 per acre.

“When looking to cut costs, it is important to note that it does pay to buy quality seed that has been tested for germination and purity, and that comes from genetics proven to perform — otherwise, a cover crop is set up to fail before it is even in the ground,” says Hall.

“It is also important to look at seed counts per pound of seed. Sometimes there can be large variations within a species, by adjusting your seeding rate to reflect the seeds per pound you can save a substantial amount of money per acre.”

Jerry Hall, Director of Research for GO SEED

According to Myers, there is currently more money than ever before in government programs that provide cover crop incentive payments, so producers looking to reduce seed costs should also reach out to the NRCS and state programs for available opportunities.

“It’s important not to solely focus on seed costs. As mentioned before, over time cover crops will improve the soil and really start to pay for themselves. A national USDA-SARE report on cover crop economics found that cover crops typically break even in profit for corn and soybeans within three years of use, providing a net profit for years afterward,” adds Myers. “Some practices, such as using cover crops to help with herbicide-resistant weeds, deal with compaction, or for livestock grazing can speed up the profit return. Because of the long-term gains to profitability, most farmers who give cover crop a fair trial for a few years swear they will never go without them due to the positive returns that occur with time.”

8. They are the silver bullet

Rick Clark of Green America with health soil

When implemented strategically, cover crops can build organic matter, improve soil structure, combat erosion and compaction issues, fix notable amounts of nitrogen, increase water holding capability … and the list goes on. But here’s the Catch-22, cover crops cannot fix production issues overnight, and some cover crops are better than others for certain objectives such as weed control or nutrient management.

“Instead of being a silver bullet that completely fixes a single problem, cover crop’s function more like a silver shotgun providing broad coverage to gradually improve cropping system challenges,” concludes Myers. “It is best if they are used with specific goals in mind. Addressing field challenges with cover crops is going to take time, patience and strategy.”

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Cover Crop Corner is a new educational column from forage application company Grassland Oregon and free for print or digital distribution by media outlets. To be added to the distribution list, please email laura@abccomms.co.uk

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Oklahoma Beef and Crop Business: How planning and breaking the norm radically improved this

The way Jimmy Emmons raises crops and cattle on his Oklahoma farm is very different from what they were 26 years ago. As we settle into a new year with new resolutions, he shares how planning and discipline have transformed his business.

jimmy emmons on his Oklahoma beef and crop business
Every management decision Jimmy Emmons makes on his 2,000-acre beef and crop farm in Oklahoma revolves around soil health. This has forced him to be diligent in planning and to think outside of the box for crop marketing opportunities.

If there are two New Year’s resolutions that will benefit every single agricultural business this year, it’s ditching the “that’s the way things have always been done” and “that will never work for us” attitudes.

Take it from northwestern Oklahoma beef and crop farmer Jimmy Emmons on just how much a business can transform when setting these common beliefs aside and adopting a willingness to try new things. For his nearly 2,000-acre family-owned and operated farm, this has been integral in the survival of the business he runs with his wife, Ginger, and longtime employee, Karson Liebold.

Stepping back 26 years, the philosophies the business was operated under and the practices implemented were radically different to present day. All the cropland was on a full tillage system consisting only of alfalfa, wheat and cotton with zero rotation. Cattle were only grazed on native rangeland with no integration between the two enterprises. Input costs were high, and income was dependent on the commodity market.

Now, the Emmons family is raising 12-13 different crops a year in a no-till system that integrates cattle into cropland by grazing cover crops grown in between cash crops. A field will never see the same crop more than once in four years and what is planted is based on what fits best into the growing season and soil needs.

While this has forced Jimmy to get creative in the marketing of his crops and be diligent in planning, it has opened doors to new opportunities that have led to premiums. Not to mention, the new approach has allowed the business to significantly cut back on inputs like herbicide, labor and machinery costs while restoring soil health so much that the NRCS has recently reclassified its type from Ustifluvent (a thin, loamy, light colored soil) to Fluventic Haplustoll (a darker, more developed soil).

So, what happened to spur this kind of change? And how did they even go about doing it?

To be frank, they didn’t have a choice if they wanted to carry on their Oklahoma beef and crop farm. In their full tillage system, input costs were high and prices were unsustainable. Jimmy was also starting to gain interest in conservation practices and knew that how they were farming was detrimental to the long-term performance of their soils.

Farming with his parents at the time who were apprehensive to change, Jimmy and Ginger started slowly by no-tilling one of the fields they owned to learn about how it could be applied broadscale. While doing this, they also added winter wheat and barley to the field’s rotation to graze cattle on. After running into compaction issues, they started working closely with the NRCS and ventured into cover crops.

From their days of conventional tillage and zero crop rotation to their current system, it has been a steady and calculated process to minimize risk while continuing to make progress. With it being the turn of the year and a natural point for people to start setting goals for their businesses and making plans to see them through, Jimmy shares a few key philosophies that have been the driving success behind where his farm is today.

Ditch the “it won’t work for me” mentality

Annual rainfall for Jimmy’s farm in Dewey County, Okla., is typically feast or famine. For context, in 2011 and 2012, they averaged 8 inches annually. In May of 2014 alone, they received 23 inches. These extreme precipitation levels have a lot of producers in the area gun shy about any practices that may jeopardize moisture availability. For a long time, Jimmy was one of them, buying into the concept that cover crops would suck up any available moisture in the ground and withhold it from the next crop.

Part of his cover crop work with the NRCS has debunked this belief and proved the exact opposite. Just this year, water infiltration trials have found fields integrated with cover crops to hold 17 inches of water with no standing or runoff, filtrating as deep as 5 feet into the ground.

However, when ditching the “it won’t work for me” mentality and looking to try something different, Jimmy encourages producers to thoroughly research to find what has worked in systems and environments similar to theirs and to start small with trial work.

Always make soil resilience a priority

When making any decisions about what to grow or how to grow it, Jimmy operates under the principle that everything they do will have an impact on the land and so everything they do will be in the best interest of the soil.

To build a thriving business while keeping soil health and resilience at the center of it all, Jimmy says it has required him to learn extensively about a plant’s life cycle and its impact on things from short and long-term weed interactions to carbon sequestration. For example, anytime a crop that is low in carbon is planted, such as a winter cover with legumes, a high carbon cash crop like corn or sorghum will follow to add more carbon back into the ground.

Set your goals and then work backward

Before setting any goals, Jimmy advises fellow producers to clearly define what they are trying to achieve. Goals can then be set accordingly and used to work backward to develop a roadmap to achieving them.

Implementing a new application is not going to be the silver bullet to fix all of your challenges, so defining these clear objectives will help you determine if a new practice is moving you in the direction you want to be.

The main reason behind each field having a four-year break between each crop is to fight weeds. Whatever weed is facilitated one year, needs to be different the next. With this as a starting point, Jimmy will look at water availability and the growing window to find what options he has available and then look for marketing opportunities to determine what goes in the ground.

Make an organized plan

Managing 12-13 different crops per year on his rotation strategy requires a lot of organization to stay on track.

While there is a heightened level of planning and organization when integrating a new practice, Jimmy says producers should not be intimidated and just look at as they would with any other business planning they would do for their current system.

If you’re buying cover crop seed, the same principles apply to buying cash crop seed. If you’re planning on no-tilling for the first time, you still have to plan planting times the same as if you were conventional.

His biggest piece of advice to setting goals and making a plan to achieve them is to start by making goals for where you want to be in three to five years and then to make small changes, even if it is just taking soil samples the first year. As he says, you wouldn’t go all-in on your first hand of poker. The same principle applies to business and farming practices.

Stick to it

While planning to do something is one thing, following through with it is another. From the work he has done with other producers, Jimmy says sticking to the plan is what will determine whether or not a farm or ranch is actually going to go the distance and make improvements or whether they will go back to their security blanket and do things the way they’ve always done them.

This means if a new application isn’t going as planned, rather than reverting, look at what went wrong and what your expectation of it was and then adjust accordingly.

Look for unconventional marketing opportunities

Building soil health and getting on top of weeds by staying as far away from a monoculture system as possible has worked, but it also has to keep the lights on. By looking for unconventional market opportunities from what is historic to his area, Jimmy has been more than able to pay the bills, capturing premiums outside the commodity market.

This has led him to grow sunflowers that would be used for squirrel feed in Kentucky, to growing high spec sesame seed for McDonald’s. To capture these unique opportunities, Jimmy says to look further afield than the likes of non-GMO corn and soybeans that typically have little to no premium and to get creative in what smaller markets need. A huge area of opportunity that he sees is growing crops specifically for small food companies as the demand for products developed from ingredients grown with regenerative practices make their way into the health and wellness market.

And while identifying these opportunities seems like hard work, once you get your foot in the door, you will quickly become a go-to person.

Build a community

Twenty-six years ago, Jimmy and Ginger Emmons decided to step away from the conventional heavy tillage and limited rotation practices they were implementing due to high input costs and unsustainable markets. Starting slow with no-till, they eventually transformed their three crop system with zero rotation to a 12-13 crop system with four-year breaks between crops. For producers looking to make a change from what they are currently doing, Jimmy encourages to start building a community of like-minded people to learn from and share experiences with.

Crucial to Jimmy’s journey has been surrounding himself with like-minded people to encourage him forward and to share experiences with. When he first started, this community for him was spread across the country and required cross-country road trips to see their applications in practice. He also became immersed in his local conservation groups to build his network closer to home.

While these are still key components to his community, the adoption of social media has been a game-changer for expanding his network. By joining producer Facebook groups and engaging in conversation on Twitter (his handle is @jimmy_emmons) he has been able to bust his community wide open to learn from others while sharing his own experiences.

His biggest piece of advice for anyone wanting to step away from conventional practices is to build their community from the beginning and to keep growing it. For every neighbor you have looking over the fence saying there is no need for change, 100 others are showing you that not only is change possible, but it is also prosperous.

Read more about Jimmy Emmons and profiles in soil health

Cover Crop Corner is an educational column from forage application company GO SEED and free for print or digital distribution by media outlets. We ask that attributions be made to the author or GO SEED when published. For more information or to be added to the distribution list, please email laura@abccomms.co.uk.

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5 Cover Crop Experts Discuss What Cover Crops Have Gifted Us?

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Producers, researchers and cover crop experts share what cover crop gifts they are most thankful for

From extending grazing seasons to reducing feed and fertilizer bills, the right cover crop practices can improve long-term productivity and help create a more holistic and profitable business.

Below, farmers, researchers and cover crop experts share what cover crop gifts they are most thankful for this year:

Cover Crop Experts On Reducing Inputs

Thirteen years ago, David Holste of Holste Farms near Dieterich, Ill., began incorporating cover crops into his family’s 980-acre corn and soybean farm to improve soil health. What started out as an initial 80 acres of cereal rye between the corn and soybean rotation has since transitioned into a full no-till system with cash crops being planted “green” into a living, standing cover crop.

Mounting an air seeder to their 35-foot draper combine head, the Holste’s broadcast cover crop seed while they’re cutting beans, allowing the field to have an established crop all year. Not only does this reduce field traffic, but it significantly cuts down on labor requirements.

“Ahead of corn, we’ve started establishing clover so as it reaches maturity, it releases enough nitrogen to make an impact on our fertilizer costs without compromising yields. By having an established crop in the field all year, we’ve also seen a huge reduction in our erosion and weed issues.”

David Holste, Holste Farms, Dieterich, Ill.
cover crop experts
David Holste farms corn and soybeans near Dieterich, Ill. For the last eight years, the farm has been planting green into living cover crop stands. Along with seeing improvements in soil health, the system has also reduced input costs without compromising cash crop yield.

Harnessing improved genetics

Just like corn or soybean variety improvement, a lot of research and investments have gone into developing cover crop varieties with improved trait performance and consistency – something Jerry Hall, Director of Research of GO SEED has dedicated his career to.

In a recent trial by Mississippi State University, researchers assessed nitrogen availability, weed suppression and 90 day ground cover of more than 30 different cover crop varieties across four different research stations. Planted in the first week of October, cover crops were terminated on March 15 and April 1 to assess maturity impacts.

Across the board, researchers found the total nitrogen production above ground biomass to increase 19 and 27 percent and two of the locations when termination was delayed for two weeks. As a result, varieties part of the trial that were intentionally bred to be later maturing had a significant advantage over earlier maturing varieties. When looking at the 13 different clover varieties part of the trial, the latest maturing clover fixed 186 pounds of nitrogen per acre compared to a lower performing variety that only fixed 41 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

While it should be noted that weed suppression ratings (1 = no suppression, 10 = total weed suppression) was varied across the four different research stations, there were stark differences between varieties within certain specie groups at each location. At one of the locations, the top performing winter pea variety had a weed suppression rating of 7 while the lowest performing variety had a rating of 4.

“Whether you are selecting a legume or annual ryegrass, making selections based on trait performance and what will work in your environment is essential to get the most from your crop. By utilizing improved varieties, you can take advantage of specific traits – whether that be weed suppression, nitrogen contributions or maturity dates – that will serve as solutions to your unique challenges. By sowing variety not stated (VNS) seed or an industry standard variety that has no quality control oversight, you are starting your cover crop system off on the back foot before it even goes in the ground. The solutions and knowledge on how to use them are available and becoming greater every day.”

Jerry Hall, GO SEED, Director of Research
Jerry Hall, Director of Research of GO SEED has dedicated his career to developing improved varieties of cover crops. By utilizing improved varieties, producers can take advantage of specific traits that will serve as solutions to their unique challenges.

Providing ground cover in less than ideal conditions

There aren’t many crops that will survive continuously saturated conditions from regular flooding. Looking for an option that would provide high quality forage in food plots used to develop trophy deer while also surviving in a field that has been known to flood upwards of 21 times in nine months, Chris Herring of Columbus, Miss., has found improved varieties of cover crops to be his solution.

“We use an improved variety of clover that has thrived in saturated conditions that historically drown out other crops. Part of this is due to its taproots, which can be more than a foot long, which hold soil in place and improve conditions in our most heavy soils. As a bonus, the crop yields a high amount of biomass at 20-25 percent protein which is ideal for growing big bucks.”

Chris Herring, Southern Forest Timber, Columbus, Miss
Chris Herring of Columbus, Miss., is a land manager and cotton farmer. Improved varieties of clover have made it possible for him to provide deer with high quality forage in a food plot field that suffers from constant flooding.

Cutting feed costs

In the last 20 years, Jon Bansen of Double J Jersey’s near Monmouth, Ore., went from feed costs taking up 50 percent of the farm’s annual budget to it now only accounting for 10 percent. Milking 175 Jersey cows and rearing 125 youngstock replacements on his 650-acre grassland farm, the majority of the farm’s feed is grazed forage.

To make this transition work on paper and with the farm’s unique environment, Jon has utilized grazing mixtures consisting of upwards of 10 different species with grasses, forbs, herbs and legumes to extend the grazing season.

“To be truly profitable on a grazing dairy, 50 percent of feed for the entire year needs to come from grazing. So, if you feed cows 100 percent stored feed in the winter months, the grazed portion during the spring, summer, and fall needs to be in the 80-90 percent range during grazing to achieve that goal. Instead of grazing tight covers on our 30-day rotation, we take cows out when the grass is still at least five inches high to give stands more longevity. The combination of specie diversity and grazing strategy has allowed us to lengthen the grazing season and reduce irrigated water needs by two weeks on either side of the season.”

Jon Bansen, Double J Jersey’s, Monmouth, Ore.
In the last 20 years, Jon Bansen of Double J Jersey’s near Monmouth, Ore., went from feed costs taking up 50 percent of the farm’s annual budget to it now only accounting for 10 percent. Adapting his grazing system to work with soil biology has been a driving component to achieving this.

Covering your assets

Of all the gifts cover crops bring to the table, the greatest is how they work to support soil health. Cover crops are going to bulk up your land above and below ground – with biomass acting as a protective barrier between soil and harsh environmental conditions, which goes on to add organic matter back into the soil as the crop decomposes. An increase of organic matter going back into the soil is also going to feed microbes, contributing to an increase in soil health and fertility.

“Depending on the type of species in your cover crop mix, your field may benefit from nutrient contributions as the cover crop decomposes. Along with biomass, the extensive root structures of certain cover crop species will help hold soil into place to prevent wind erosion and eventually rain erosion. The same collaborative effort between roots and biomass will also reduce nutrient leaching by sequestrating things like nitrogen in the cover crop, making it available for future crops. These benefits alone will go a long way to protecting soil – your most valuable asset – while building a strong and productive foundation for the future of your business.”

Brent Jones, GO SEED, Iowa research farm manager
Brent Jones, manager of GO SEED’s Iowa based research farm, has seen huge improvements in the soil health of systems that integrate cover crops to protect soil from severe environmental conditions such as drought and floods.

Receiving your own cover crop gifts

If you want to receive your own gifts from cover crops or improve how they are already working in your system, the most important step is to invest time into educating yourself about what will work best for your unique business.

Read publications that share technical insight and producer stories, join evening Zoom calls with seed dealers that are discussing different practices, read about research and farm trials findings in your local area on the Cover Crop Information Map, and poke your head over the neighbor’s fence to learn about what they are doing.

The gifts cover crops can give to your business are countless.

Cover Crop Corner is a new educational column from forage application company Grassland Oregon and free for print or digital distribution by media outlets. To be added to the distribution list, please email laura@abccomms.co.uk

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Dave Chance: A Cash Crop Farmer’s Advice For A Successful Cover Crop

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Indiana corn and soybean farmer, Dave Chance, says mindset is crucial to having a successful cover crop

dave chance Indiana cash cropper
Dave Chance of Chance Farms, Lebanon, Ind., started integrating cover crops into his corn and soybean rotation in 2005. This year, 600 acres of the 2,200 acre farm went into prevent plant.

It’s been a tough year for many producers throughout the Midwest with record acreage going into prevent plant. Dave Chance of Chance Farms in Lebanon, Ind., was no exception this spring, drilling 600 acres of his 2,200 acre corn and soybean farm with cover crops. Unable to get any corn in the ground, Dave managed to plant 1,450 acres of soybeans.

During a cover crop tour in the Corn Belt, I had the opportunity to pick Dave’s brain about his approach to making the most of his prevent plant acres. A 14-year veteran to cover cropping, Dave has many words of wisdom from lessons learned for his fellow producers venturing into cover crops for the first time:

1. Adopt the right mindset

Rather than looking at your prevent plant acres as a one and done for a check, look at it as “a golden opportunity” to try something you wouldn’t have otherwise done. If you want your cover crop to be a success, then adopt a positive mindset and focus on the benefits they bring to the table. For example, focus on how the uplift in soil health from cover crops will positively impact the long-term production of the farm, or how legumes in the field now are potentially going to reduce nitrogen input costs next spring. Dave is adamant that this simple shift in thinking will be the difference between failure and success for people venturing into cover crops extensively for the first time this year.

2. Look for improvements that will offer long-term benefits

In a typical year, Chance Farms follows a corn and soybean rotation, with 10 percent of the acreage going into wheat each year, followed by an overwinter cover crop mixture. Dave calls this the “rehab” year, with each part of the farm going through it every seven years. This rotation was developed by accident in 2005. In an effort to get tile ditching work completed during the summer, one of the 178-acre fields was split in half and planted with wheat on one side and kept in the corn-soybean rotation on the other side. The plan was to tile ditch the wheat side and then urea top dress it in the spring. Dave and his dad got to talking about how his great grandpa used to add clover in his urea top dressing to keep weeds down and add nitrogen back in the soil. As an experiment, he decided to broadcast Canadian giant mammoth clover into the wheat. While doing tile work in the field after the clover had been established, the changes in the trial plot’s ecosystem became very apparent. The soil had a rich, healthy smell, and clover root structures were reaching 10-12 inches deep, covered in nodules. Examining the healthy stand of wheat and clover, Dave found the butterfly and bee population to be greater in the field. However, the real light bulb moment came when the wheat and clover trial plot was transitioned back into corn and yielded a 35-bushel advantage over the half of the field left in the corn-soybean rotation.

For the next three years, Dave experimented with different species of cover crops to find what was most suitable for their farm, and aggressively integrated it into the system in 2010. The cover crop “rehab” year serves many purposes to the long-term success of the cash crop system. Improvements to soil health and structure have contributed to yield increases in the following corn and soybean crops. And while it varies on the cover crop mix and weather conditions, some years have resulted in the reduction of synthetic nitrogen inputs.

3. Take advantage of the biodiversity

While most prevent plant acres will have already been established, Dave is an advocate for utilizing cover crop mixtures rather than planting a monoculture. This is the best way to benefit multiple areas of the farm system, whether it is adding organic matter back into the soil, fixing nitrogen, suppressing weeds, or improving water sequestration. His foundation ingredients to his cover crop recipes always include a legume, brassica, grass and broad leaf specie to “turn the soil on” and to choke out weeds.

With the farm’s five mixtures ranging from three to 16 species each, and more than 20 different species being used throughout the farm, Dave has placed a great deal of emphasis on selecting for various traits. According to him, variety selection has been the difference between successful years and flops on multiple occasions. Along with being able to rely on consistency of performance, he can also take advantage of specific traits bred into the varieties. Currently, two of his favorite clover varieties to include in mixtures are cold-tolerant FIXatioN Balansa Clover and Frosty Berseem Clover from Grassland Oregon. FIXatioN Balansa Clover can contribute up to 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre and yield 5 tons of dry matter in a single growing season. It’s deep taproot system also helps with compaction, soil drainage, and water infiltration. Frosty Berseem Clover has specifically been bred for the fast establishment, late maturity, and the ability to survive in temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dave strongly urges fellow producers to experiment with different mixtures for a couple years to see what works best for their unique challenges before using them aggressively. In one of his recent trials that was incorporated extensively into the farm as prevent plant acreage, a mix of oats, buckwheat and radish was broadcasted and then rolled to incorporate seed into the top 0.5 inches of soil. Then, with a 15 inch row planter, winter peas were drilled at a rate of 27 pounds per acre. The broadcasted species will act as a protective wall this winter for the peas. This spring, Dave plans to go back in and plant corn between the 15 inch rows to fully take advantage of the nitrogen contribution.

4. Don’t let the government dictate your management

Regardless of varying dates tied to prevent plant payments, Dave’s past success with cover crops has secured their existence on his budget sheet without any added government support. If you are too late to the game for prevent plant payments but still have land that needs planted, it is not too late in the season to establish a cover crop. Thanks to improved plant breeding, there are multiple fast establishing options available that have time to get going before the first autumn frost.

5. Practice patience

Dave’s final piece of advice is to look at your cover crop venture as a marathon – not a sprint. Simply putting a cover crop in the ground to collect a government check and then turn around and go back to the way you’ve always farmed won’t yield the full benefits of cover crops. It takes years of consistent management to rebuild soil health and capture the full potential of cover crops. However, by experimenting with different species and methods to figure out what is best for your system and taking advantage of the lessons learned from producers like Dave, the long-term rewards from cover crops will be worth it.

If you have any questions about which cover crop options will work best for your geography and unique challenges, give Grassland Oregon a call at 503-566 9900.

Dave Chance advocates the use of cover crop mixtures to take advantage of the benefits from multiple species. This mixture consists of 16 species, which have mainly been selected for variety traits to ensure consistency of performance.
Selecting for variety traits has been the difference between cover crop success and failure on many occasions for Chance Farms. Two of his favorite legumes to include in mixtures are FIXatioN Balansa Clover and Frosty Berseem Clover from Grassland Oregon. Both have been bred to fix notable amounts of nitrogen and to produce significant biomass while surviving in sub degree temperatures.

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Editor’s note:

Cover Crop Corner is a new educational column from forage application company Grassland Oregon and free for print or digital distribution by media outlets. To be added to the distribution list, please email laura@abccomms.co.uk

Click HERE for a printable PDF version of this article.