SWCD coordinates soil health project through Regional Conservation Partnership Program

The Allamakee SWCD is coordinating a project through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a program funded through the USDA. The practices funded through this project are:

1. Cover crops on manure applied acres
2. Cropland conversion to hay/pasture (and all related practices including fencing, watering systems, prescribed grazing, and heavy use protection)
3. Adding a small grain to a rotation
4. Utilizing cover crops as part of a 3-crop system (corn-soybean-small grain)

Only a fraction of conventional row crop farmers grow cover crops after harvest, but a new global analysis from the University of Illinois shows the practice can boost soil microbial abundance by 27%.There are many benefits to planting cover crops including reducing erosion, increasing organic matter, reducing compaction, improving nutrient cycling, and providing food for beneficial soil microorganisms.

According to Glen Arnold, OSU Extension Specialist, “Cereal rye is the most commonly planted cool-season grass for capturing excess nitrogen. Because rye over-winters, research has shown it can capture and hold 25 to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre, in the organic form as roots and plant tissue. It germinates at lower temperatures than oats so may be planted later, but less nitrogen will be recycled the later the rye is seeded in the fall.”

Dan Byrnes, who farms near Waukon, signed up for RCPP the first time this year. Dan has seen noticeable differences in erosion control on fields with cover crop compared to his conventional systems. Dan’s goals from enrolling in this project are to demonstrate a program that works, prevent soil erosion, and to improve his general soil health. He has not experimented with seeding rate and has been using 1 bu/ac on his rye seedings. He has not been crediting nutrient uptake of the cover crop in his fertility program.

Dan had a soil health test performed this spring and there will be additional tests completed again in the future to see changes in soil health parameters.

The five principals of soil health are:

1. Armor the soil.
2. Minimize disturbance.
3. Increase plant diversity.
4. Keep living roots in the soil.
5. Integrate livestock-if you don’t put livestock on the field utilizing manure as a nutrient source can have some of the same benefits.

Anyone who has any questions about the RCPP project should feel free to call the Allamakee SWCD office at 563-568-2246, ext. 3.

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