What's Up at the USDA Office?

Upcoming Deadlines/Dates
April 9: Quality Loss Adjustment Program
May 15: August 1: Primary Nesting Season
July 15: Crop Certification

Small Grains and Planting into Green Covers Can be the Answer
by LuAnn Rolling, District Conservationist
I believe that every farmer I work with wants to be profitable, take care of the soil, water and wildlife and make sure their children and grandchildren can keep farming in the future. How do farmers find profitability with the many different kinds of uncertainty right now, none of which we can control?  

I would like to suggest considering small grains to break up a corn/soybean “rotation”, if you can even call it that. The small grains add a third crop that’s harvested in July, and then producers could plant a multi-species cover crop, which needs a longer growing period than following corn or soybeans in Iowa. The small grains are the gateway to get to the multi-species cover crop, which is the ultimate goal.

One producer found that in less than 10 years of doing this three-crop rotation, with cover crops after the row crops, they saw an increase in organic matter in excess of one full percentage point, which is huge. That’s a free 20 pounds of nitrogen and an extra inch of water-holding capacity. That’s a benefit in two ways: when we have one of these almost-annual “hundred-year rainfalls,” the ground will absorb an extra inch of rainfall, and then in the summer when it gets really dry, that’s an extra inch of water in the soil.

With this added diversity and lengthened rotation, many producers have found they have practically zero issues with pests or disease. Add in the dense mat from a cereal rye cover crop that holds back weeds, and they don’t need expensive traited or glyphosate-tolerant corn or soybeans. Producers could shift to growing almost exclusively conventional corn and soybeans thanks to a longer rotation and cover crops.

Going conventional is a major benefit. The seed is less expensive and a producer can reduce the pesticides they put into the environment. Conventional seed alleviates the worry about any secondary effect the traited crops might have on beneficial insects. How do we deal with the wildly variable prices? By planting rye in the fall, and no-tilling soybeans into it without terminating the rye right away, there is the potential to take out a pass of chemicals and still raise a good crop. The cereal rye has a natural effect to cut down on weed pressure. It’s not anything magical; if you’ve got a good enough stand out there the rye’s been growing all winter and it’s got a head start on the weeds. The soybeans do well growing in the rye. By cutting down the costs of weed control, you can make yourself more financially resilient too.

What we know in retrospect is that the Dust Bowl farmers unknowingly mined the life from the soil and, in doing so, they undermined its resilience. Bountiful but short-term harvests came at a cost that no one at the time could have imagined.  We have the knowledge and the technology to prevent these disasters, but we have to start now, and one way is incorporating small grains into rotations and planting soybeans into green cereal rye cover crop.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet