Showing posts from August, 2020

Sowing Cover Crops

Late summer and early fall (August 1-Mid-September) is a great time to sow cover crops. Methods include broadcasting with an airplane, helicopter, high boy applicator, various types of spreaders OR seed incorporation with light tillage or a drill. Broadcast seeding rates need to be 10-20% higher and are highly dependent upon adequate moisture at planting. Incorporating or drilling the seed means sowing the cover crops after grain is harvested. Successful cover crop stands depends upon getting seed planted correctly. Using an airplane or even a helicopter is fast and economical. Airplanes have to avoid trees, telephone and power lines; so stands may be variable on the ends. Helicopters can hover but the whirling blades sometimes variably scatter the seed. In both methods, cover crop seed my end up in corn whorls or on neighboring fields. Broadcast seed can be eaten by voles, slugs, or earthworms which drag the seed down their burrows. Avoid broadcasting seed if the soil is excessively d

Cover Crops Benefit Wildlife

Cover crops provide many species of wildlife with food and shelter. If you want to maximize wildlife benefits, avoid cover crop monocultures. Cover crop diversity and interspersion are keys to improving wildlife habitat. For birds like quail and pheasant; nesting, brood-rearing, and escape cover are critical for bird survival, and these three types of cover need to be within 40 yards of each other for best interspersion (Zac Eddy, Senior Wildlife Biologist). For birds, high energy grain cover crops provide food and shelter (structural cover). Good bird cover crops should include warm season forage species planted after wheat harvest. Sorghum species can grow 6-9 feet tall and they lodge in the winter, providing excellent cover and food for quail, pheasant, and rabbits; even under heavy snow and ice. Warm-season cover crops like sorghums, millets, sunflowers and warm-season legumes such as cowpeas and Sunn hemp can be planted. Sorghums, millets and sunflowers are excellent seed producer

Promoting Beneficial Insects

There are numerous beneficial insect species in the USA including 91,000 species of beetles (Order:Coleoptera), and many Hymenoptera or species of wasp (4,000), bees (4,000), and ants (1,000). Other beneficials include flies (5,500, Diptera), true bugs (3,800, Hemiptera), spiders (3,000, Arachnids) and earwigs (Dermaptera). Beneficials include immature ground beetles and lightning bugs, which consume soil insects and weed seed. The world insect population has declined 75% since the 1970’s, due to the overuse of insecticides, especially neonicotinoids seed treatments. Beneficial insects also pollinate USA agricultural crops worth an estimated $5 billion dollars per year and are predators to many harmful insects. There are three major ways to fight harmful insects: chemical insecticides, good plant nutrition from soil health, and by promoting insect predators. Insecticides generally kill everything including the beneficial insects that reduce harmful insect populations. Neonicotinoids (C

Vole Alert

Farmers are reporting crop damage from voles (field mice). Oval bare patches and burrows in soybeans or wheat fields indicate voles are present. Vole populations peak every 2-5 years. Cold harsh winters (2018, 2019) were the vole bottom and populations rebounded due to a mild 2020 winter. Snow and crop residue insulate voles against the cold. Voles do not hibernate but they need 40% more energy to survive cold winters. It is now time to view crop damage and to devise a plan to reduce vole damage next spring. Voles are 3-7 inches long, with short ears, small eyes, short tails, and brownish gray fur. There are two types of voles (meadow vole, prairie vole) that cause crop damage. Meadow and prairie voles are similar in appearance except prairie voles may have a yellow belly. Prairie voles’ mate for life and are normally seen in pairs, while meadow voles are usually alone. Highly prolific, meadow voles have 4-8+ litters per year, up to 11 young per litter under optimal conditions of food

Soil Health Principles

There are several natural principles that apply to implementing good soil health. These include minimizing soil disturbance, and maximizing the following: surface cover, live roots, and biological soil diversity. Adding livestock or grazing also makes soil health flourish. Learning how to implement these soil health principles may be difficult but there are huge benefits. It is often stated that “Soil health is a journey, not a destination!” so implementing these principles takes time and is never ending.  Minimizing or eliminating soil disturbance is a key first step. Carbon or soil organic matter (SOM) is the most limiting soil nutrient and excessive disturbance causes carbon to oxidize or burn up in our soil. It’s like opening the damper on a wood burning stove. The extra oxygen causes the microbes to burn up the active carbon, the sugars and root exudates that create good soil structure. Tillage creates soil compaction or poor soil structure. If you dig in the soil, you can find th