Monday, May 31, 2010

Cover Crops

This is a field of phacelia LuAnn and I saw in New Zealand in February. It is used for a cover crop all over Europe and is being studied here in the states.

It is a blue daisy dicotyledon plant in the aster family.

My friend Steve Groff in Pennsylvania is one of those people, in this case a farmer studying the advantages and disadvantages of using this cover crop in our soils and farming practices.

The Ohio Farmer just came out with a new article on cover crops this morning and I found it worthy of today's blog.

"Seven years of research at Ohio State University's South Centers at Piketon have found that cover crops such as cow pea or winter pea worked into a corn/soybean/wheat rotation can produce enough nitrogen to support at least 150 bushels of corn per acre.

The findings indicate farmers can save money on spring nitrogen fertilizer applications while reaping the environmental benefits of cover crops. "Cover crops produce enough nitrogen to where farmers many not need to add nitrogen fertilizer to their corn crop, but if they want to be sure of maximizing their yields, farmers can supplement the cover crops with 25 to 30 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer," says Rafiq Islam, an OSU Extension soil scientist. "That's more than enough a farmer needs to support the corn crop."

Continuous no-till is a challenge for many Ohio farmers because of the hits they take in yields, soil compaction, weeds and other environmental difficulties."No-till farmers face yield reductions right off the bat – 20 to 25% – and those yield reductions last a good four or five years until the soil adjusts to the new production system," says Islam. "

Also, they face compaction issues, weed control problems, wet fields, and the immobilization of nitrogen because of the increased carbon being stored in the surface soil."Throw cover crops into the production mix and the time it takes to recover from yield losses is cut in half, he says.

In addition, cover crops help alleviate environmental problems. For example, including a few pounds of oilseed radish with legumes can substantially improve the benefits of cover crops. "The roots of oil seed radish can reach deep into the soil – as much as 30 inches – breaking up compacted soils (natural strip tillage), supporting microbial diversity, facilitating drainage and improving soil structure," said Islam.

"If you grow a legume cover crop along with oil seed radish, you don't need to subsoil or deep plow. The crops work together as a natural biological plow." OSU Extension is releasing a series of cover crop fact sheets throughout 2010, as well as provide production information during workshops and field days. A plethora of cover crops fact sheets are available on OSU Extension's Ohioline at Search for "cover crops."

Look for more information at the Midwest Cover Crops Council web site at"

We are looking for cover crops that can be "easily" introduced into the typical corn soybean rotation in the midwest, control pests and produce nutrients for the next crop.

Dave Brandt's use of the White corn and soybean planter with Tillage Radish in one row and Austrian winter pea in the other has worked about as well as anything I have seen so far. Finding the right combination more farmers will use is what we are after and we have just started this search in the states in recent years.

For me, cereal rye or wheat or barley or oats is the easiest crop to plant after corn going to soybeans and Tillage Radish is the easiest and best thing to plant after soybeans going to corn if you can get enough growth after soybean harvest. This requires early planting of soybeans and perhaps a shorter maturity crop than some of us use.

Others like Steve and Joel Gruver are trying "everything under the sun." Each year we get a little better or we hope a little smarter and then Mother Nature throws a curve ball like this year and the past two years.

The main thing is I know anything is better than nothing. Bare rolling hills was not a good thing last winter. Erosion was rampant again.

That flat black soil in Illinois? I will leave that to Dr. Gruver!

Ed Winkle


  1. I guess you mean lacy phacelia, a great cover crop and also great if you have honey bees or want to attract them to pollinate your other crops.
    It's used quite a lot by organic farmers in Europe.

    And you probably shouldn't mention the tillage radish without adding the ® tag since it's apparently a registered trademark. You should probably abstain from mentioning it at all for the same reason, as it is advertising for one specific company. Isn't there a generic name or generic varieties for this type of cover crop / soil improver radish?

  2. Stupid comment profile thing, I could only specify an account I don't even use... :[