Delayed planting schedule caused
farmers to employ new cover crops
Monday, December 16, 2013 2:48 AM
"I've never seen a year like this," has been the sentiment regarding 2013, which has been echoed by many farmers in Fillmore County.
With the potential of growing several feet long, the Tillage Radish® scavenges nutrients from the soil and then releases them during the following spring. Decaying radishes create a propane-like odor.
The entire year has been one of unconventionality. A winter that sent snow and below-average temperatures well into May, a short, but very wet spring, and a very dry summer all contributed to a turbulent growing season. Many farmers saw entire fields stay empty until midway through the summer; a result of ground that stayed too wet.
Once they could get out in the field, many farmers decided to employ prevented planting strategies for the first time in decades.
Despite the year not going as planned, area farmers have voiced their tentative optimism in what 2014 will bring. A practical symbol of the many unknowns in 2013 has been a new cover crop that could benefit farmers in 2014.
"We were thinking we would plant a lot of corn," shared Jim Love, one of many farmers who were thinking the same. Several wet fields, resulting in stuck equipment, caused roughly 1,000 of his corn acres to remain unplanted by mid-June.
Don and Jeff Wilson, a father and son who have most of their crop fields in York Township, didn't plant corn after May 16. They had planned on having 95 percent of their acres in corn. In June, they had to decide what they were going to do with 600 empty acres.
Throughout the county, farmers made the economically difficult decision to plant only cover crops in those vacant fields. Depending on what crop was used, farmers were able to cut down on weeds and replenish soil nutrients and organisms. The Wilsons planted oats because of cheaper costs and they could plant them right away.
Their empty acres were all planted by the Fourth of July and Don said the oats controlled the weeds well. He also suggested that per acre payments for their prevented planting may have been better than what they would have received from selling corn.
Meanwhile, throughout the county, word of another cover crop started going around. The Tillage Radish® from Cover Crop Solutions, L.L.C., in Pennsylvania began to be recommended by the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office in Preston.
According to county grazing specialist Dean Thomas, the federally-backed Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) had a one-time contract that area farmers could register their acres under for cover crop assistance.
Farmers were able to register their acres for one-, two-, or three-species cover crop mixes. The two- and three- species mixes had the Tillage Radish® seed in it along with an annual rye grass and/or crimson clover. Over 10,000 acres throughout the county were signed up. The two-species mix was the most popular.
By the end of August, most farmers had already seeded their cover crop mix. The 1,000 acres Love had left were planted with the three-species mix. Thomas estimated that up to 70 percent of farmers needing a cover crop in the county went with the Tillage Radish®.
Crop Production Services (CPS) in Harmony was also recommending the radish crop because of its potential benefits. Popular in the eastern U.S. and southern portion of the Corn Belt, the Tillage Radish® is a scavenger crop.
CPS crop consultant AJ Friedges explained that the radish absorbs nutrients like potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous from the surrounding soil. It then decays before, during and after the winter and releases the nutrients back into the soil.
Friedges said early soil tests in the area indicate the radishes don't scavenge as much as in other parts of the country. He stated he would get more soil samples next spring.
The radishes' taproot, which can grow over 33 inches long, also reduces soil compaction. Friedges expects to see yield increases due to the radishes, but only time will tell what the results will actually be.
Farmers' opinions vary on the usefulness of the Tillage Radish®.
Dave Mensink said, "The jury is still out on these. We won't know what those fields will be like until spring."
However, Mensink noted that he was anxious to see if the radishes deliver on their promise. He prevented planned 200 acres and has been experimenting with the radishes. He, Nate Heusinkveld and another area farmer have been feeding the radish tops to their livestock.
"We baled them up, wrapped them and the cows seem to like them," Heusinkveld added.
The idea, he explained, came from thinking outside the box, which many farmers have been forced to do because of the unpredictable year.
Love added he thought the radishes would do well as a cover crop, but wouldn't work in his crop cycle during normal years when he plants corn. He hosted a group of agronomists on Sept. 28 as part of a field day sponsored by the Fillmore County Soil & Water Conservation District.
Thomas said they had dug a trench in one of the radish fields to observe what the radishes were doing. "It's better than letting it sit fallow," he explained. "The fields that had a prevented planting should hold consistent next year."
Recent snowfall has covered many of the decaying Tillage Radish® fields, but a drive throughout the county can still bring their pungent odor to your nose.
"It smells like propane," stated Friedges.
"Rotting garbage," Love said.
Whatever the smell, it will be more than welcome if it helps get county farmers back in those fields with improved yields in 2014.
"I'm optimistic," said Mensink. "I think next year, we'll get corn planted. But, it's hard to say."