Monday, January 26, 2009

Tillage Radish

My dentist is an avid deer hunter and I was telling him this morning about our working with radish. When I told him how the deer have been grazing them he was all ears!

I learned about radish cover crops from Leon Bird and Steve Groff a few years ago. When Steve told me farmers were seeing 10-40 bushels more no-till corn after radishes I was all ears too!

Immeadiately I got some seed and started planting them myself. What's the catch? Cover crops need to be planted around Labor Day here and many years we haven't even started harvesting by then. Hmmm, big problem.

Do you plant crops that harvest in summer like wheat or barley? Sure, so start there! We usually plant double crop soybeans especially when they are $10 so I have another problem.

Can we fly them on like the old Soil and Water fly-on program we had years ago? Sure, but you know you have to over-seed whenever you broadcast seed on the ground, right?

OK, this is too big of a pain, how can I possibly plant a cover crop at the proper time? After wheat or barley is going to be the best answer for me or fly-on or broadcast seed into standing beans and possibly corn.

Cover crops have to be inexpensive to get farmers to adapt them so what is the cost? Another problem, those seeds are $2.50 a pound but you only need 8-10 pounds drilled but you better double that for broadcast.

Enter in Dave Brandt, cover crop "expert" from Lancaster, Ohio. Dave was selected as one of the three Responsible Nutrient recipients at the 17th annual National NoTillage Conference in Indianapolis this year. Dave was smart enough to use a 15 inch row no-till corn planter with splitter units to dial down his radish to one pound per acre in one row and a couple of pounds of Austrian winter peas in the other.

Dave was also smart enough to get Rafiq Islam from Ohio State to sample the soil and cover crop to get some data why these work so well. He announced at the conference they found 650 lbs of N, 22 lbs of P and 250 lbs of K in those samples plus sulfur, calcium and other nutrients crops need! Those numbers are staggering! Now my ears are really perky!

So maybe I need more cash crop cereals to harvest in summer then plant the cover crop for the next no-till crop. OK, now this is starting to make sense. I understand this huge amount of nutrients is not going to be released when the cover dies but by the time the corn tassels we should have a pretty good release! And if not, we are still building the soil for next year!

Have I PERKED your interest yet? Need more answers? There will be 2 days of discussion at the annual Conservation Tillage Conference at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio February 26-27 with a special all day seminar on the science of cover crops on Wednesday, February 25.

Maybe I will see you there!



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