Successful No-Till Alfalfa on Clay Soils

By Nate Severy, Agronomy Outreach Professional

This year there were a number of farmers who no-tilled alfalfa in clay and silty soils throughout Addison County.  While this was a difficult year for good alfalfa establishment due to our dry, hot weather, all of the no-till alfalfa farmers had successful stands.

NT alfalfa 8252016

Below is a summary of what these farmers did that contributed to their success:

All farms planted during a “window of opportunity”.  While all farms managed their fields differently, there are generally 3 times through the year where there is a “window of opportunity” in which you can successfully plant alfalfa into your cover crop.  These are: early April before green-up, mid-late May immediately after harvesting your cover crop for forage, or August after you combine and harvest grain and straw.  One positive aspect about no-till seeding is that in the spring only the top inch of soil needs to be dry in order to plant, as opposed to the entire plow layer with conventional field prep.  This means you can seed much earlier in the spring without the risk of turning your clay soil into moon rocks.

All farms fertilized, prepared good/level seedbeds, and planted a cover crop last fall after short-season corn silage.  Cover crop planting dates ranged from early September to the beginning of October.  If you are planning on harvesting your winter rye/triticale/wheat as forage, the earlier you can plant in September, the better your spring yield will be.  That means you will want to make sure you plant a corn silage variety that can be harvested early enough that you have adequate time to prepare a proper seedbed.  If you do not want to harvest forage from the cover crop, either plant at a lighter rate or plant a mix that has a winter cereal with a winter-kill crop like oats or radishes.

All farms planted at the proper seeding depth.  For winter cereal grains, planting depth should be between 1-1 ½ inches, which means you need to plant with a grain drill.  Broadcasting and lightly tilling it (followed by a roller) can work, but there is a very fine line between incorporating your seed and burying it.  Broadcasting and only going over the field with rollers is not recommended.  The seeding depth for alfalfa should be between ¼ to ½ an inch.  Most farms used a grain drill, but it is possible to broadcast your seed if you “aggressively scratch” the field before seeding and pack it several times afterwards.

All farms planted alfalfa into a low-competition environment.  Some farms planted into their cover crops in mid-April before there was much spring growth, a farmer planted his alfalfa in May after harvesting the cover crop as forage, and a few farms planted alfalfa in April, spraying and killing their cover crop immediately afterwards.  You can have good alfalfa establishment in a thick cover crop/nurse crop, but you will have less first-year alfalfa yield when compared to a light cover crop/nurse crop.

Three farms successfully frost seeded 5lb/ac red clover in March into their cover crops.  Frost seeding can be an effective way to introduce crops into fields.  However, you need three things to happen perfectly: very small seeds, soil that will freeze-thaw, and bare ground.  These cover crop fields seemed to be good candidates for frost seeding 5lb/ac red clover in March, and by August you could definitely see where we did and did not frost seed.

Planting alfalfa and other hay crops is risky no matter the year.  Hopefully more farms try this method of seeding so we can learn more about the best way to establish and maintain this valuable crop.

No-till alfalfa being planted into a cover crop and corn residue
No-till alfalfa being planted into a cover crop and corn residue

alfalfa 8242016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have questions about this work or would like assistance with no-till alfalfa? Contact Nate [802-388-4969 ext. 348, nathaniel.severy@uvm.edu]

 

Upcoming Crop Field Days!

Join us for two upcoming events looking at cropping systems in Addison and Rutland County.

 

  • August 26th 11 am – 2 pm:

    Corn Variety Trial Demonstration. We will be looking at a whole series of corn silage varieties planted side-by-side to examine development and potential for earlier harvest for better establishment ofCorn a cover crop. We will also have time after lunch to see other cover crop/no-till fields. This event is FREE and THERE WILL BE A CATERED LUNCH. Yes, you read that right, free catered lunch! So grab your farm friends and get excited (hopefully) for short(er) season corn. More information can be found on our flyer: Corn Trial Field Day 8-26-16, or by contacting Kirsten Workman [kirsten.workman@uvm.edu, 802-388-4969 x 347]. Vorsteveld Farm, 3925 Panton Rd. Panton, VT

    Special thanks to Crop Production Services for providing lunch.

  • August 30th, 12 – 2 pm:

    Crop Patrol in the Southern Champlain Valley. Join us CropPatroland the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition as we ‘tour’ neighboring fields to look at no-till corn, alfalfa and annual ryegrass. The event will begin at Dorset Peak Jerseys, in Danby, VT – 468 Danby Mt. Rd. More information can be found on our flyer: crop patrol 8-30-16, or by contacting Rico Balzano [rico.balzano@uvm.edu, 802-388-4969 x 338]. This event is free.

 

 

University of Vermont Extension and U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or familial status. To request a disability related accommodation to participate in this program, please contact Karen Gallott at (802) 388-4969 or 1-800-956-1125 (toll-free in Vt. only) by August 22, 2016 (first event) and August 27, 2016 (second event).

In the News and Around the Town

Lately we’ve been busy bees (particularly Kirsten Workman!) and have found ourselves on Across the Fence as well as NPR.  Here are some links where you can see and hear more about what we are up to!

http://digital.vpr.net/post/farmers-embrace-cover-crops-improve-soil-reduce-runoff#stream/0

http://digital.vpr.net/post/no-till-tell-all#stream/0

 

 

 

 

3rd Annual No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium

NTCC2016Join 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.

All the information about this event can be found on our 2016 Symposium Page.

You can register online here.

To view the pdf brochure of the event: NTCC Brochure 2016

We are still accepting sponsors! 2016 Sponsor and Exhibitor Form

Questions? Feel free to contact us! [802-388-4969, cvcrops@uvm.edu]

Spring 2015, Soil Health Field Day

Soil Health Field Day Flyer_Hoorman 2015The snow is melting, the sap is flowing (hopefully), and the crew at CV Crops is dreaming of spring!

Join us for our Spring 2015 Soil Health Field Day

April 21st, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm.

We will be hosting Jim Hoorman, from Ohio State University Extension (PhD candidate and farmer), to discuss:SoilHealth

  • The Biology of Soil Compaction
  • Using Cover Crops to Keep Phosphorus Out of Surface Water
  • Economics of Cover Crops & Weed Suppression

    Soil Health Field Day Flyer_Hoorman 2015_Page_1

 (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.

Either way, we request that you register.

You may do so by either calling us at (802) 388-4969, or by registering online: https://www.regonline.com/soilhealth

 

New Across the Fence Video

The 2015 No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium was featured recently on Across the Fence!

The t.v. segment also features Kirsten Workman and Jeff Sanders discussing research, trials, and use of both cover crops and no-till in Vermont.

Check out the video HERE!

Interested in trying a new practice on your farm this coming year?  We are happy to help you determine the best fit for your farm!

Contact Us!

 

 

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

Two Great Upcoming Events…Pastures & Cover Crops

The Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture Team is pleased to announce two fantastic events in November:

November 8th * 10:00 am to 11:30 pm  *  Ferrisburgh, VT
No-Till Cover Crop FIELD DAYinterseed

Can no-till, cover crop mixes and manure work in corn silage on the clay soils of the Champlain Valley??  We’re trying to find out.  Please join us at the site of one of our on-farm research trialsJoin the Champlain Valley Crop Soil & Pasture Team and Deer Valley Farm as we share our preliminary results from our  Cover Crop Diversity in No-Till Systems SARE Partnership Project.  Come check out our on-farm research plots of two different cover crop mixes in corn silage on CLAY SOIL

Click HERE for the Field Day flyer

RSVP to (802) 388-4969 or kirsten.workman@uvm.edu

 

November 14th  *  10:00 am to 2:30 pm  *  Bridport Community Hall
Champlain Valley Grazing SymposiumOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Join us as we wrap up this year’s grazing season and think ahead to next year! Come hear how planned grazing can be fun
and profitablee. Troy Bishopp, aka “The Grass Whisperer” is an accomplished grazier on his own farm in NY state, in addition to working with the Madison County Soil & Water Conservation District/Upper Susquehanna Coalition as their regional grazing specialist. Troy brings a holistic approach to grazing planning by helping farmers chart a course that pays attention to their personal goals as well as their profits. Julie Smith, UVM Extension Dairy Specialist, will also be here to discuss how to manage and troubleshoot common herd health issues including Johne’s, BVD, and nutritional deficiencies. Julie’s focus is on biosecurity and preventive animal health management. Hope to see you there!

Click HERE for the Grazing Symposium flyer

Register & purchase tickets:  http://grazingsymposium2013.eventbrite.com/

 

Please join us for one or both of these fantastic events. 

If you have  any questions or need more information, please give us a call at (802) 388-4969 or email us at champlain.crops@uvm.edu.

SEE YOU THERE!