The Champlain Valley Crop, Soils, and Pasture Team will lead a hands-on discussion of benefits cover crop mixes hosted by Chuck Farr and Ashley Farr and families. Farr Farms is a multi-generational dairy operation; Chuck Farr focuses on crop production while his son, Ashley, and his family manages the dairy. Here, we will discuss the many opportunities that winter rye, grown as a seed crop, can offer. We will also take a look at large blocks of 8 different combinations of legumes, brassicas and cereal grains and discuss the benefits and challenges of these systems. We will be looking at cover crops that we drilled with our no-till grain drill.
This cover crop field day is part of a series hosted in conjunction with the UVM Ext. Northwest Crops and Soils Team and the Vegetable and Berry Program.
When: Tuesday October 25, 2016 at 1pm – 3pm Where: 491 Huntington Rd, Farr Family Farm, Richmond, VT – google maps RSVP: Register here
Vermont farmers are on target to plant over 20,000 acres of cover crops this year. The majority of these acres will be planted to winter rye, but there is still time (even now) to get a little more from your cover crop.
Legumes are unique because of their ability to fix nitrogen, utilize that nitrogen themselves reducing fertilizer requirements, and contribute it back to the soil for use by the following crop. Agricultural legumes are plants that are in the family Fabaceae. Most farmers are familiar with the list of legumes that comprise their forage legume species like alfalfa, clover, and trefoil, or those that are grown for grain like soybeans, peas, lentils and even peanuts. And don’t forget the vegetable legume crops like green beans and snap peas.
Legumes also have a much lower carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N) than cereal grains, so they decompose quicker making that nitrogen more available to the subsequent crop. If you have ever plowed down (or killed) a nice stand of alfalfa and then planted corn, then you know just how beneficial a legume in your crop rotation can be. Legumes can provide over 100 pounds of nitrogen credit per acre, which is why they are often called ‘green manures’.
The legumes themselves are not responsible for nitrogen fixation, however. This happens as a result of a symbiotic relationship between the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that invade the plant root and store nitrogen in root nodules. The plant provides the bacteria with nutrients and energy, and the bacteria provide the plant with a usable form of nitrogen. These bacteria, called Rhizobia, are able to take nitrogen gas from the atmosphere (N2) and convert it to ammonia (NH3), which is then converted to ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3–) which are the forms of nitrogen usable by plants. In order for good root nodulation and maximum nitrogen production, it is important to inoculate your legumes with the appropriate species of Rhizobia bacteria at planting. Some seed is available pre-inoculated, but many times you will need to apply the inoculant yourself. Whoever you get your seed from should have inoculant available as well. Beware, however, inoculants have a short shelf-life and are also species specific. Using clover inoculant on peas or vetch will not be successful.
Plant Available Nitrogen (PAN)
The ability of your legume cover crop to supply nitrogen to your subsequent crop depends on how much biomass and when you terminate the cover crop. This plant available nitrogen (PAN) becomes available roughly 4-6 weeks after cover crop termination. Oftentimes, a cereal grain terminated at or beyond the boot stage can actually immobilize nitrogen and create a PAN deficit, making it necessary to increase fertilizer/manure nitrogen applications. This is because microbes are tying up nitrogen temporarily as they break down the carbon rich material. Conversely, a cover crop terminated too early will provide only minimal PAN. Below is a simple explanation of the differences between cereal grain and legume cover crops and the implications of when you terminate them.
Considerations When Planting Legume Cover Crops
Legume cover crops will need to be planted earlier than cereal grains to survive winter and maximize N production. For clovers, you’ll want them established by August 15th in Vermont, so this limits them to being interseeded or planted after a cereal grain harvest. The winter annual legumes can be planted as late as September 1st through 15th, which means you can still plant them after a timely corn harvest.
If you are planting legume cover crops only to replace nitrogen, the economics may or may not pencil out. Usually in organic systems, this is a preferred practice. However, when commercial nitrogen fertilizer is $45 for 100 pounds of nitrogen and a legume cover crop could cost you $70 per acre for that same 100 pounds the nitrogen benefit may not be financially rewarding. Certified organic fertilizer, however, could run you $150 per acre, making the cover crop a wise investment. However, a legume cover crop is more than just nitrogen, and these additional benefits are harder to quantify. According to USDA this includes “yield improvements beyond those attributable to nitrogen alone. These may be due to mulching effects, soil structure improvements leading to better moisture retention and crop root development, soil biological activity and/or enhanced insect populations below and just above the soil surface.” (Clark, SARE). They are also great soil conditioners, and can provide early weed suppression.
There are many legume cover crops, but the table below gives a list of the most common ones planted in the northeast.
Join Us For This Great Event Full of Useful Information For Your Farm!
February 17th at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center, Burlington, VT
Registration is now open for this event. We have a day filled with guest speakers and professionals from around the state, country and also Quebec. Speakers will be addressing soil health, herbicides, cover crop research and demonstration trials, no-till successes and challenges, economics and soil conservation.
We will be hosting Jim Hoorman, from Ohio State University Extension (PhD candidate and farmer), to discuss:
The Biology of Soil Compaction
Using Cover Crops to Keep Phosphorus Out of Surface Water
Economics of Cover Crops & Weed Suppression
(click on the picture above to view the pdf)
We will meet at the American Legion, have a hot lunch, and then head out to the field to visit Vander Wey’s Nea-Tocht Farm. If you are a farmer, you can attend this field day FOR FREE, due to the generous contributions of Caring Dairy and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition.
Service professions are welcome to attend, there will be a $30 fee. Five CCA credits available from this event.
The 2015 No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium was a huge success! We are already processing the evaluations to continue to improve and advance the conversation. If you missed the symposium, or would like to revisit the information, we have posted the pdf files of the presenters.
Friday, October 31st • Pouliot Farm • 1:00-3:00 PM 1478 VT Route 128, Westford, VT 05494
See annual ryegrass, white clover and forage radish mixed right in with Urea and seeded at sidedress time in July. The Pouliots got a great catch, and now we can see how it survived the traffic during harvest, talk to the farmers about whether or not it competed with the corn, their herbicide program and see what they might change for next year. An added bonus…Tony will bring out the Great Plains twin-row corn planter.
Thursday, November 6th • Vorsteveld Farm • 1:00-3:00 PM 1/3 Mile East of Panton Village on Panton Rd.
The Vorstevelds welcome us back to get a look at the cover crops that have been growing since mid-August, see the results of manure injection and more. We’ll also see how their winter rye, winter wheat, oat, radish cover crop is doing that they seeded immediately after corn harvest…and how that cover crop did after manure was injected right after seeding. We can also talk to the Vorstevelds about their ‘minimum till’ system they have been using on their heavy clay soils.
Friday, November 7th • Clifford Farm • 1:00-3:00 PM 6147 VT Route 116, Starksboro, VT 05487
Check out results of two different cover crop studies – all in one field. See 10 different three-way cover crop mixes, each planted in July, August and September. We’ll also take a look at a research plots with winter rye drilled and broadcast, with and without Tillage Radish planted in mid-September. All of these plots also have portions with and without manure applications. We’ll also take a look at winter rye broadcast and rolled – per NRCS specifications.
Nov. 10th 1:00—3:00: A Tour of Cover Crops in St. Albans Bay (St. Albans)
Meet us at our office at 278 S. Main St, St. Albans BEFORE 1pm to join this tour. Depending on numbers, we may rent some vans.
Please RSVP by November 6.
Nov. 12th 1:00—3:00: Cover Crops at Borderview Research Farm (Alburgh)
Come learn about cover crops and our NWCS research looking at cover crop varieties, planting dates, and seeding rates at this field day at Roger and Claire Rainville’s Borderview Research Farm, 146 Line Road, Alburgh, VT
Directions: From Route 2 in Alburgh, turn onto Route 225 (Border Road). Drive toward the Canadian Border. As you approach the border, turn Left just BEFORE Customs. In front of you, there will be a dirt road (Line Road) that
goes West along the border. Borderview Farm is the first farm on the Left.
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.
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.
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.