Field Day – Cover Crops 101

We had a very nice turnout for our March 24 Field Day. We had a total of 24 at the program, 19 farmers, which we were very happy with.

March 24 Attendees
March 24 Attendees

Unfortunately the weather didn’t allow us to be outside that day but we anticipated this might happen and had taken quite a few pictures the day before when we were digging pits and we also had a couple of soil cores taken from fields which had long-term cover crops plantings. As a fringe benefit, we may have gotten a few additional attendees as nobody could do field work.

Boone County SWCD Technician Brian Daggy discussing soil cores with farmers.
Boone County SWCD Conservation Technician Brian Daggy discussing soil cores with farmers.

Our main speaker for the day was NRCS Soil Scientist Mike Wigginton. Mike went through what he found at the pits and discussed the impact cover crops have on soil fertility and health. A substantial part of the morning involved group discussion, almost a round table where farmers shared their experiences and knowledge.

NRCS Soil Scientist Mike Wigginton in one of the pits.
NRCS Soil Scientist Mike Wigginton in one of the pits.

The Plots

We dug six soil pits and here’s a short summary of what was found. Keep in mind that last fall was the first time cover crops have been planted in this area.

Cereal Rye:
We had two different cereal rye plantings. One strip was planted on September 29 and the other was planted November 4. One of the farmers on our advisory committee suggested the late planting of rye to demonstrate how, even if conditions keep you out of the field until late, you can still get a good cover crop stand. The plots demonstrated this nicely. In the earlier planted cereal rye Mike found roots to 32″ deep in a pit with a dense till (glacial till) layer at 36″. He found roots to 33″ deep in the late-planted cereal rye strip.

Cereal Rye. The tee shows where Mike found roots. The water is from lateral movement above the dense till.
Cereal Rye. The tee shows where Mike found roots. The water is from lateral movement above the dense till.
Late-Planted cereal rye showing good early spring growth and root development.
Late-Planted cereal rye showing good early spring growth and root development.

Annual Ryegrass:
Mike found roots 36″ deep in the Annual Ryegrass strip. As expected, there was also a large amount of roots in the top few inches of the soil profile.

Annual Ryegrass.
Annual Ryegrass.

Oats-Annual Ryegrass-Crimson Clover:
This plot was one of our mixes. The oats winter-killed and the clover was just barely starting to come back so most of what was present was annual ryegrass. This was one of the shallower soils with a dense tillage layer at 27″. Mike found roots to 22″. This strip is one where it would be interesting to come back in a few weeks to see how things progress.

Oats-Oilseed Radish:
The oats and oilseed radish both winterkilled. We had a very dry month or so after planting last fall and didn’t have a lot of top growth though our germination was good. This was another shallow soil with glacial till starting at about 25″ deep. One of the interesting things Mike showed us was a permeable area indicated by soil color. This is a point where a cover crop root could penetrate and, over time (a long time) could begin to change the soil structure.

The grey color indicates a permeable area which will allow root penetration.
The grey color indicates a permeable area which will allow root penetration.

No-till:
We dug a pit at our no-till “check” just to provide a visual contrast to the other plots. As you can see from the picture, there are no roots anywhere, not even in the top few inches. Even though weeds (and there were some) have root systems, they were very shallow and don’t provide much of a benefit.

No-till. You can see chickweed in the upper left of the photo but there are no visible roots, even near the surface.
No-till. You can see chickweed in the upper left of the photo but there are no visible roots, even near the surface.

The soil cores were very interesting as you could see roots 5 feet below the surface (which was the depth of the core).

You can't see the tape measure in this picture but the route identified by the golf tee is at about 60" depth.
You can’t see the tape measure in this picture but the root identified by the golf tee is at about 60″ depth.

This was a productive day with a lot of information shared. It will be interesting to compare these pictures with ones from future years to see if we can find any changes in soil structure, texture, color, etc., over time. It is unrealistic to expect significant changes in just a few months – the color and texture in the no-till strip did not vary significantly from the others – but in a few years we may see quite a bit.

Advertisements

One thought on “Field Day – Cover Crops 101

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s