Manure and Cover Crops

Manure and Cover Crops…A Winning Combination

by Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Outreach Professional

Fall applied manure is often a subject of concern – for farmers, water quality advocates and even the general public. As you know, most farmers have the conundrum of having ideal field conditions for spreading manure in the fall (dry, open, great weather oftentimes) and a need for making sure they have adequate winter storage, but not wanting to lose out on the nutrients in that manure.. Especially producers who farm heavier soils with higher clay content, that try and avoid as much spring tillage as possible. If you are a no-till farmer, you know even better that fall applied manure without incorporation will not yield much of that nitrogen for you next year’s corn crop. You can lose up to 90% of your ammonium nitrogen with the right (or rather wrong) conditions.

fall manure credits
from Nutrient Recommendations for Field Crops in Vermont

So how do we make the most of fall applied manure… plant a cover crop, of course!! Fall applied manure as part of the establishment of a cover crop can be a win-win. Not only do you better utilize your manure, potentially doubling the amount of nitrogen retained, but your cover crop will perform better too. This all leads to better soil coverage, less erosion, better nutrient cycling, and lower fertilizer costs. Not a bad deal!

Last fall, we conducted a small demo/experiment at the Farm at VYCC in Richmond, Vt. Although this is not ‘scientific research’ per se, we did utilize a randomized split block design with three different treatments with and without manure. On October 2nd, we seeded 100 pounds of winter triticale per acre with different treatments of ‘Purple Bounty’ hairy vetch…either 10, 20 or 30 pounds per acre with the triticale. Five days later, liquid dairy manure was broadcast over half of all the plots at a rate of around 4,000 gallons per acre. We then measured percent cover one month later in November 2013 and then collected forage samples to analyze nutrient content, measured biomass, and re-measured percent cover on May 15th, right before the cover crop was plowed down. We found that the plots that received manure out performed those that didn’t in all aspects that were measured. Not surprisingly, a fertilized cover crop does better!! Plus you have better utilized your fall manure. The manured plots had double the biomass, double the nitrogen and phosphorus and potassium, and roughly one and half times the soil coverage in the fall and spring.

These plots have now been plowed down and were planted to ‘Early Riser’ corn (an 80 day flint/dent variety) on June 7th. No starter fertilizer was applied, and PSNT’s will be taken to make a recommendation for nitrogen later in the season.

vycc data

There is more to come on this topic. This fall will be commencing a two year research project that will investigate combinations of winter rye and tillage radish (in comparison to straight winter rye) established with diary manure. We hope to determine if the addition of the radish in manured systems can amplify winter rye’s effectiveness as a winter cover crop. We also hope to determine the most effective seeding rates and establishment methods.

vetch-cropped

Innovation is in the air…and on the ground

by Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Outreach Professional

(Originally published on the WAgN Blog on May 28, 2014)

 

The growing season if finally starting to take hold. I have seen corn plants poking through the ground, vegetable crops starting to look like something edible, and first cut hay is on the ground in some places with hopes of a dry day to bale tomorrow. And with a new growing season comes all the hope and suspense of another year…all the potential for the best year ever or the worst, or maybe something in between. Farmers are going all out this week. We may not be able to predict what the weather will do this year, but one thing is for certain. Farmers in Vermont are innovative.

Planting Green:  no-till planting corn into a standing crop of winter rye
Planting Green: no-till planting corn into a standing crop of winter rye

As I traveled from farm to farm today, I had the pleasure of talking with several different farmers – all of whom are trying something new this year. I saw fields of winter rye that were ‘planted green,’ that is no-till planted corn into standing rye before the cover crop was terminated. Innovation. I measured out 16 strips in a soon-to-be corn field with one farmer to help analyze two different reduced tillage systems this year. Innovation. He wants to interseed three different cover crops over those strips once the corn is up. Innovation. Another farm rounded out a SARE partnership project that analyzed two different cover crop mixes by no-till planting corn into those cover crops right next to a conventionally managed part of the field to see how these two systems will perform on his farm. Innovation. Another farm asked to borrow our GPS and try their hand at some precision agriculture. Innovation. A vegetable farmer is trying out different strategies to implement cover crops in his rotations for green manure, weed suppression, mulch and livestock forage. Innovation. A soybean grower has just modified his corn planter so he can no-till soybeans in 30-inch rows and will be trying out higher populations and some interseeded cover crops in those same soybeans. Innovation. I talked to three farms who have agreed to partner on a cover crop mixture demonstration project and will be hosting field days on their farms to share the results. Innovation. I have spoken with several farmers this week growing new crops like chicory, quinoa, and berseem clover.  Innovation.  I emailed with a new member of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition who is excited to be part of a farmer-based watershed group looking to protect Lake Champlain and thriving agriculture in Vermont. Innovation.

As you walk around your own farms, identify the many ways you are being innovative. As you drive down the road, what are your neighbor farmers doing to be innovative? If you see some fields this year that look a little different – instead of wondering if something went wrong, maybe its just another Vermont farmer trying something new.

Here’s to Innovation!

A grain grower marking out strips in a field to compare tillage practices.
A grain grower marking out strips in a field to compare tillage practices.
Winter rye with hairy vetch used for a green manure before vegetables and ear corn.
Winter rye with hairy vetch used for a green manure before vegetables and ear corn.
Chicory planted with grass, clover and alfalfa in a pasture

Cover Crops as Forage Crops…A Look at Winter Rye and Triticale

Deer Valley Farm harvesting winter rye for round bale silage just before tilling it under and planting corn.
Deer Valley Farm harvesting winter rye for round bale silage just before tilling it under and planting corn.

by Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Outreach Professional

‘Double Cropping’ or the practice of harvesting two crops from the same field in one year is not a new concept by any means.  However, as more and more farmers in the Champlain Valley are starting to look at cover crops as part of their crop rotation, it becomes a very viable option to evaluate harvesting them for forage.  The most popular cover crop planted here in Vermont after corn silage is Winter Rye.  Recently, however, we have started to see more and more farmers plant Winter Triticale (a cross between winter rye and winter wheat) for its purported value as a forage crop.  This spring, several producers harvested winter rye and triticale for forage.  We were able to collect forage samples in an attempt to compare them to each other and get a better sense of the overall value of these crops as forage. 

 We collected samples from three farms on five fields.  The farms we collected samples from were located in Williston, North Ferrisburgh, and Wells, Vermont.  The farms were harvesting these cover crops as baleage or grazing them.  We calculated yields and sent the samples for analysis.  Below is a table with our results, averaged by crop.  The fields were all no-till drilled in late September at between 100 and 150 lbs/acre (after corn silage or into pasture) and harvested in mid-May.  All of the crops were fertilized in the spring (with Urea or solid dairy manure).  The majority of samples were taken at harvest during the split-boot stage (Feekes stage 10).  The yield measurements represent one harvest, and do not account for multiple harvests.  The pasture was grazed a second time in early June and that harvest would increase overall yields.

 Overall, in our samples, triticale performed better than rye from a forage quality standpoint.  Rye, however, outperforms in yields, sometimes by double.  One of our triticale samples tested out at 22% protein when harvested at the split boot stage, but our samples averaged out at 17% CP.  The rye was not far behind at 16% CP.  We also found that planting at higher rates increased yields and quality.

 Considerations

 In Alburgh, VT UVM Extension Agronomist, Dr. Heather Darby found similar results with her winter rye planting trials.  She found similar dry matter yields over the 2011 and 2012 seasons.  They didresults see lower crude protein levels at closer to 12% (our rye samples averaged 16% crude protein).

 Aaron Gabriel, of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture Program also collected samples on four fields this May that were each planted to rye and triticale.  Although they did not collect yield data, the protein levels were also lower than ours.  Rye averaged 12.7% CP while triticale averaged 14.6% CP.  Their relative feed values were very close to what we found…both crops averaging well over 100.

 Like all crops, yield and quality all depend on management. Planting and harvesting in a timely manner, a good fertility program, and appropriate soils will have the most impact on growing a high quality, high yielding crop.  In these situations, either crop would fit the bill.  If you are hoping to get a crop off early in order to get your long season corn or soybeans established, winter rye might be a better fit. 

 Although dry matter yields are the best way to compare results, it is important to note that from a feed management standpoint, rye yielded up to 4 tons per acre of baleage (assuming 55% moisture) and closer to 5 tons/acre of chopped silage (assuming 65% moisture).  Triticale yielded between around 2 tons/acre at 55% moisture and almost 3 tons/acre at 65% moisture. 

 For a cost of $35 per acre to seed these cover crops, a farmer can see a return of between $80 and $200 in feed value (depending on your yields).

Conclusions

This winter rye measured in at 36" at harvest time during the split boot stage.  It yielded almost 2 dry matter tons per acre.
This winter rye measured in at 36″ at harvest time during the split boot stage. It yielded almost 2 dry matter tons per acre.

Overall, triticale matures later than rye and is shorter with less biomass.  It did test out as higher quality feed in our sampling, but was inconclusive

statistically. Rye does yield higher.  In one field where rye was planted right next to triticale in the same field, the rye produced 1.49 DM tons per acre while the triticale yielded 0.91 DM tons per acre.  In our observations, triticale seed is often more expensive and harder to get a hold of.  Although, that may change as more producers purchase it over time.  We found that seeding at higher rates closer to 150 pounds/acre gives higher yields and better quality (higher protein, lower NDF) than fields seeded at a lower rate of 100 pounds per acre. 

 An additional one or two dry matter tons per acre of quality feed is not a bad return on the investment of seed.  Add to that the erosion prevention you accomplish over the winter and early spring, the nutrient recycling that occurs, and the soil health benefits of increased organic matter, better soil structure, and it seems like it makes sense in most cases.  If you are unable to harvest these crops as forage and must plow or burn them down with herbicide, they can contribute significant amounts of nutrients back to your soil profile, enabling you to reduce fertilizer inputs.  Rye provided 45 to 90 pounds of nitrogen, an average of 9 pounds of Phosphorus and 80 pounds of potassium; while triticale provided an between 45 and 65 pounds of nitrogen, 5.5 pounds of phosphorus, and 45 pounds of potassium (per acre).

 All in all, a well-managed rye or triticale crop can improve  soil health, water quality, and could become an important part of your feeding program.  We will keep you posted as we continue to look at these cover crops in Vermont.

More Reading:

 Aaron Gabriel’s winter rye/triticale results – Cornell Cooperative Extension

Winter triticale that was drilled into a pasture in September being rotationally grazed the following May.
Winter triticale that was drilled into a pasture in September being rotationally grazed the following May.

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2012 Winter Rye Research – UVM Extension

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2011 Winter Rye Planting Date Research – UVM Extension

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2011 Winter Rye Seeding Rate Research – UVM Extension

 http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/factsheets/factsheet56.pdf

 

 

Your Role in the Future of Farming in Vermont

This post was originally published on the Women in Agriculture Network (WAgN) Blog.

Now is the time to have your voice heard.

As an Extension Outreach Professional, I am part of many networks related to farming and farmers.  Emails arrive in my inbox everyday about another issue that is directly related to how you farm in Vermont.  Whether it is the next pest, weed, or exciting crop to grow; a new grant or cost-share program; or the newest regulation being decided by the Vermont Legislature or state agency that will impact your farm business.  Many times these directives and programs are implemented without much input from the people and landscapes they will impact the most—YOU!

You most likely hear the same discussions I hear.  You may even get the exact same emails I get (whether you read them or not).  You probably have conversations with your neighbors about the many issues facing agriculture in Vermont.  I don’t walk into many barns without doing just that.  However, I encourage you to take the next step.

Stand up, participate, be heard, and take a leadership role to shape how these initiatives, programs, and policies impact you and Vermont agriculture.

It is very easy to put your nose down, focus on your own farm, and keep more than plenty busy just trying to get your daily farming tasks done.  However, sometimes we need to pick up our heads and take a look around.  Are you happy with the trajectory of policy-making, technical assistance programs, educational opportunities, water quality rules, food safety policy, funding programs, or farm economics?  If you have insight on how to improve any of these issues, NOW IS THE TIME TO SPEAK UP.

There are a lot of initiatives already happening or just starting that directly impact how you farm now and will farm in the future.  In my experience, farmer participation is not only accepted, but sought after.  I can’t tell you how many meetings I have been to where the participants are making decisions that directly impact Vermont farmers, and when you look around the room there may not be a single farmer in the room.  This happens for a few reasons.  Farmers are either not included, do not know about these meetings, or decide they are simply too busy to attend.  Let me say now that none of those are adequate reasons anymore.  As farmers, you need to know when and where these meetings are taking place and show up.

Having your voice heard just got a lot easier thanks to a group of local farmers, UVM Extension and a Conservation Innovation Grant from the Vermont NRCS.  We have started the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition in much the same manner as the Farmers Watershed Alliance in Franklin County. The idea is to help all farmers proactively address water quality issues in the Chittenden, Addison & Rutland counties in the Lake Champlain Basin to advance local farm economic resiliency and environmental stewardship.   The group aims to target education and outreach, acquire potential project funding, and facilitate communication between farmers, agencies and the public to move us forward in improving water quality The Champlain Valley Farmers Coalition meets once a month and will be accepting new members soon. Call us if you want your voice to be heard and want to be proactive about how water quality and agriculture will co-exist in Vermont now and into the future.

If you would like to join the Champlain Farmers Coalition, please contact Kirsten Workman or Jeff Carter at (802) 388-4969 or champlain.crops@uvm.edu.

Beyond farmer-based groups like the Champlain Valley Farmers Coalition and the Farmers Watershed Alliance, you can participate on so many levels: in your town, your county, statewide or even national groups and boards.

Here are just a few examples: