Showing posts from June, 2020

Forage Cover Crops

Planting forage cover crops can be a beneficial food source and a place to apply manure. Grass cover crops like sorghum, Sudan, Sorghum-Sudan, cereal rye, annual ryegrass, millets, Teff, and oats are great forages that build organic matter, tie up manure nutrients, keep the soil from eroding, improve soil structure and still make great feed. Adding legumes like Balansa or crimson clover, winter peas, or vetches can increase crude protein (CP). Kale, radish, or turnips may be added at low seeding rates if the cover crop is grazed. Sorghum or Sudan hybrids are summer annual grasses that grow with little moisture and provide great tonnage. Deep fibrous roots break up soil compaction and add soil organic matter. Plant these varieties immediately after wheat or barley harvest and take an early first cutting or graze when the plants are 3-4 feet tall. Harvesting stimulates roots and tillering, adding 5-10X more roots and shoots. Manure increase the second and possibly third cutting before fr

Wheat Straw and Cover Crops

As wheat and barley harvest progresses, farmers often ask what should they do with wheat straw? Should I keep the straw on the field to build soil organic matter (SOM) or should I sell it? What is the value of the wheat straw and how many nutrients are being lost? Does straw residue hurt the next crop? Straw is a valuable resource in high demand for bedding or mulch and livestock farmers are even using straw to add fiber to their livestock rations. Fewer farmers are growing wheat today although some barley is being grown. At a minimum, straw sellers should consider the value of nutrients leaving the farm plus the value of the lost organic material plus the harvesting cost. The nutrient value of straw varies but 9-12 pounds of nitrogen (N), 3-4 pounds of phosphorus (P2O5) and 25-45 pounds of potassium (K2O) per ton can be lost on fields that yield 1-2 tons straw per acre. Based on N-P-K values of $.40-$.50-$.30 per pound, the nutrient value per ton varies for N from $3.60-$4.80, for P,

Calcium and Manganese Deficiency

Calcium and Manganese are two soil abundant elements that are often not as plant available and may be deficient in plant cells. Calcium is used in cell wall membranes and often becomes limiting during critical pollination periods when cells are rapidly dividing. Manganese is used in photosynthesis to split the water molecule (H20) into H + and OH-. Grain and fruit size are determined by calcium after pollination. The cell division process proceeds rapidly, lasting 5-40 days but most grain crops have a 10-14 day cell division window. Cell division occurs exponentially (2-4-8-16-32-64 etc.) as cells divide so calcium may become deficient quickly after pollination. After cell division, grain or fruit fill occurs as the cell is filled with proteins, sugars, and water. A lack of calcium can limit cell division, grain or fruit size, and reduce yields. Blossom end rot in tomatoes is an example of a common calcium deficiency but the same concept applies to grain and fruit crops. Calcium genera

Cover Crops After Wheat

Wheat harvest may start in 3-4 weeks and it is time to order cover crop seed. A long growing season after wheat allows for many options. Warm season cover crops grow in the summer but die with the first frost while cool season species generally survive the winter. Major categories include brassicas, grasses, legumes, and other broadleaves with over 60 species. Cover crops offer many advantages including adding carbon and soil organic matter (SOM), improving water infiltration and soil structure, tie up soluble nutrients, weed fighters, and improve soil health. Brassica cover crops are small seeded, fairly inexpensive, and include daikon radish, kale, rape seed, and turnips. Radish, kale and rape have deep roots which reduce soil compaction, help control weeds, and add soil microbial diversity. Radish should be planted in mixtures (2#/A or less) because when it dies (200 F) it smells bad and may allow soluble nutrients to leach. Turnips are shallow rooted and planted for grazing. All br

Earthworms Enhance Soil Tilth and Fertility

Every farmer loves to see earthworms in their soil because it indicates good soil health and productivity. Earthworms, cover crops, and no-till together are a great way to improve your soil. After a 3 to 4-inch rain (more or less) last week, farmers should observe where water is standing and where it is not ponding. In healthy fields that had no-till, cover crops, and earthworms; there should be less standing water due to better soil tilth and cleaner water coming off the fields in the surface water or tile. Cover crop roots increase macro and micro-pores and the earthworms decompose and move the organic residue to form soil organic matter (SOM), to keep nutrients and soil in place. Here are just a few things the earthworms do to improve our soil. They alter soil structure, improving water movement, enhancing nutrient dynamics and plant growth. They are a major soil health indicator, earthworms cannot tolerate poor soil for long periods of time, although they can improve it. Earthworms