Dan's Blog on Conservation:

Learn by Failing 2/26/19

Innovative farmers make sure they try something which will probably fail. Failure is a good teacher.

The Fulton SWCD has recognized the need to get covers established earlier.  We had some success in 2015 with cool season legumes spring sown into soybean stubble prior to planting corn. The legumes had plenty of time to root and survived the shading from the canopy closure to emerge after crop senescence.  We tried again in 2018 by broadcasting a broad spectrum of cool season grasses, legumes, brassicas around V7 leaf stage. It came up but did not survive the shading and was gone after harvest.

Based on these two extremes, we’ve concluded the likelihood of survival is dependent on the root volume of the cover crop and sunlight.

This year we want to move the seeding back to the V3 leaf stage on conventional row width and also open the surface to more sunlight by planting corn in 60-inch rows. We want to trial a mix of: Annual ryegrass, kale, crimson clover and hairy vetch plus a mix of cowpeas, buckwheat and sun-hemp.

If you are interested in experimenting, please call me.

If you want to push the envelope further, drill cereal rye after March 1st in a field going to beans. No-till drill beans into the un-vernalized rye.  Without the cold temps, winter hardy grains will not go to seed.  They’ll get about a foot tall and stop then eventually fall over with no need to terminate.

Again, please call me.  We’ll try our best to make it fail! 574-223-3220

 Spring Seeding Cover Crops 2/14/19

Applied nutrients in complex forms must be mineralized into plant usable forms by soil organisms. These soil organisms require energy. Plant exudates supply that energy.  Without a live root, those organisms suffer and do not efficiently convert fertilizer into usable forms.

You have the opportunity now to plant a spring cover. Oats and spring barley are excellent choices. Drill them into soil that is just slightly frozen. They will sit there until the temperature is right and then germinate and grow. If you get them in now you will have about 60 days of growth to feed your organisms and trap any remaining nitrogen left by last years crop before the rain washes it all out or it volatilizes into the atmosphere.

For the next few weeks we will have nights below freezing with daytime temps in the low 40’s. These freeze/thaw cycles make the soil shrink and swell. This condition is a great opportunity to broadcast Red clover into standing wheat. Its also a great chance to broadcast oats into corn or bean stubble as a cover crop.

All chemistry is dependent on biology. Biology is dependent on plants. Grow better cash crops by planting cover crops.

Call us. We can help. USDA/ISDA/SWCD 574-223-3220 ext. 3

Catching Up - 11/28/18

From all indications, the inter-seeding experiment failed. Shade and herbicide residual both work against it. We had cover into August but by harvest, no sign of anything.  I had expected red clover to survive.

Lack of light in late summer is probably the main reason it failed. How to improve light getting to the soil under a growing corn crop?? Early hybrids with upright leaf configuration would help.  Wider rows would also help.  If anyone is interested in playing with wide rows with cover crops inter-seeded below, please let me know. All we’d need to experiment is a chunk of headland. I plan on planting the same amount of seed in half the rows in my sweetcorn next year then inter-seed with a mix of warm and cool covers to help me understand the potential of the system.

The fall transect showed about 9% of cropland with an annually planted cover crop, or about 15,000 acres. I know of several new users who planted a large acreage, but the transect did not show an increase over the last few years. Thank you… to all of you who use covers on your cropland.

The tour of Lake Manitou Watershed didn’t reveal any surprises.  DNR will write the needed scope of services for the watershed diagnostic study and then bids will be solicited to complete the study. We had very good adoption of cover crops from new users within the watershed and sustained usage from long time users. This trend needs to continue and improve to keep the phosphorus growing crops and not in Lake Manitou.

Pit Closure11/1/18

USDA just finished an emergency closure of an animal waste facility. The pit is no longer a human nor environmental hazard. The sludge was tested and safely applied to cropland as fertilizer.

There are other unused/abandoned hog houses with pits under them out there which present the same potential threats as did this one. If you have one of these, please make an appointment to talk to me. The Natural Resources Conservation Service can help technically and financially. Call NRCS at 574-223-3220 ext 3.

Cover CropTransect   10/25/18

Harvest isin the final stages. There is still time to get a cover crop of cereal rye planted to trap nitrogen and carbon dioxide which is converted to organic matter. Plant cereal rye at one bushel per acre or thicker if you want better weed control.

If you’ve noticed problems on your land during harvest that you wish to address, please call me. Together we’ll look over the problem, determine a course of action and evaluate programs which could assist with a solution. Please give me a call at 574-223-3220 ext. 3.

We will conduct a formal fall transect to statistically determine the amount of cover cropping in the county. We’ll get that done around December 1 to allow time for all the late planted cover crops to emerge. If you’re curious about the prevalence of cover cropping and want to spend a couple days helping, we’ll be glad to have your assistance.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, weather has allowed for more post- harvest cover crop planting. I will not be surprised if the transect shows an increase over 2017.

I’ve done some digging in fields planted to radish. They do a good job penetrating compacted layers. On a field following beans, the radish tubers were about half an inch wide with a tap root which bored through two compacted layers and into a third about 9 inches down. Worm activity around these roots is always good. By spring, they’ll have the roots and stems completely consumed and pooped into usable plant food.


Interseeding at V5 6/8/18

In the latitudes north of the 40th parallel, inter-seeding covers into standing corn at the fifth collared leaf stage holds promise.

The Fulton SWCD is experimenting at five diverse soils locations to see if it might work here. In two locations we have or will sow plots of ladino, crimson, mediumred, yellow sweet clovers and hairy vetch.

In the others, we sowed annual ryegrass and crimson clover.

This “oldcrank” broadcasted the seed with my dad’s canvass bagged crank seeder.

I seeded one of the plots on June 1.  I checked there today and found the clovers to be sprouting.

The intention is to get a crop started under the canopy ready to pop after the cash crop dries down and allows light back to the soil surface. We learned last year that early corn with an upright leaf configuration will allow more light onto the surface earlier than a later down cast variety.

Herbicides are the biggest limitation. Residuals are being used more frequently these days to control glyphosate resistant weeds. They’re usually active, depending on the rate, at the V5 leaf stage which precludes inter-seeding. We have a variety of areas sown so we’ll be able to relate what we’ve found.

If you are new at cover cropping, the Fulton SWCD will help you offset some risks. Contact Lois Mann 574-223-3220.

Lessons 4/16/18

Lessons learned the hard way are not easy nor cheap.

The difference in the success of aerially applied annual ryegrass cover crop in a field with two different corn maturities is stark. The annual ryegrass is green and flush in the earlier corn and not present in the later corn.

Conclusion:The leaves of the early variety died back allowing more light to reach the sprouted annual ryegrass. The dense coverage of the long season corn variety did not allow sunlight to penetrate to ground level. The annual ryegrass sprouted and died.

Lesson: concentrate your aerial seeding on your earlier corn varieties and choose your corn variety numbers based on maturity and leaf configuration where you want to aerially seed cover crops.



Fulton County SWCD  (574) 223-3220 ext. 3

Keep Cover in the System 1.17.19

With crop prices low, you might be tempted to reduce costs by not planting cover crops.Cover crop benefits accrue over time which makes their use a little tougher to quantify. In your decision process keep this in-mind: a one percent improvement in organic matter is worth about $600.00 per acre. (James Hoorman, Ohio State Univ).

Here are a few ways to cut down your cover crop costs:

-make sure you have the correct rate for the seed or mix you are planting. More isn’t necessary better, especially in mixes.

-plan your cash crop hybrids to allow time to plant your cover crops. Drilling gets better germination which requires less seed than broadcasting.   

-modify your existing equipment to sow covers. Put a seed box on a vertical till or rotary hoe. Rig a broadcast seeder to a corn detassler.

- offer your services to your neighbors to help you justify those costs.

-grow your own cover crop seed. You can use it and sell it without being certified, but you can’t advertise or deliver it. Or you can get certified by the State Chemists office as a seed producer.

-if you use mixes, work with your supplier to get the same benefits with cheaper species. Use the Midwest Cover Crop Council or similar seeding tool.

-growing your nitrogen with a legume cover crop.

-use wheat seed as a cover crop.

-explore the use of programs to offset the costs.

Call. We can help. Dan Rosswurm USDA/NRCS 574-223-3220