March 20 Cover Crops Field Day

The spring Boone County Cover Crops Field Day was held on Tuesday, March 20 at the Boone County 4-H Fairgrounds. This was a little earlier than usual but we wanted to avoid the local school district spring breaks.

We had a good turnout for this and while it was pretty chilly, at least we didn’t have any rain. Or snow. The Indiana Soybean Alliance helped us out by sponsoring lunch for the day.

Stephanie McClain, Indiana NRCS Soil Health Specialist was the first speaker discussing, “What is Soil Health and Why Does it Matter?” She walked through various aspects of soil health such as organic matter and its role, the benefits of increased soil microbial activity, soil structure, and more. She also did a slake test comparing a no-till soil with one which was conventionally tilled with the usual results.

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NRCS Soil Health Specialist Stephanie McClain received some help conducting a slake test

The next topic was a discussion of adjusting herbicide programs to account for cover crops followed by visits to the plots.

At the plots, NRCS Soil Scientists Mike Wigginton walked us through the various cover crop strips. Unfortunately, even though this was the first day of spring (yes, it really WAS a spring field day!) the weather had been cold enough that only the two cereal rye plots showed substantial growth. Just a little barley, wheat, and annual ryegrass were starting to emerge/break dormancy in other strips. For this reason we did not dig soil pits. Instead Mike used his spade to turn some soil over. He was able to show how the cover crops and no-till were having an effect on soil color, texture, and compaction after just three years of cover crops by comparing it with a conventionally-tilled field next to ours.

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NRCS Soil Scientist Mike Wigginton at the plots with the group.

After returning from the plot visits we had lunch, sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance followed by a presentation by some seed companies. They discussed cover crop selection, planting methods, and how and where to purchase seed.

I mentioned that our plots border a conventionally-tilled field. We took soil from this field and from ours and did another slake test.

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On the left is soil from a conventionally-tilled field. On the right is soil from our plots. Note that after just three years of no-till and cover crops our soil is much more stable. Less has broken down into the water. This soil is much more resistant to erosion, as well as having other benefits.

While we didn’t dig soil pits Mike did take some soil cores. He found evidence of living roots down to 34″ deep in the cereal rye strip.

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Following the presentation by the seed company representatives those who wanted to earn Pesticide Credits could stay for an additional program.

This was another good, successful field day. Though cold, at least we stayed dry. Thank you to everyone who helped out with the field day and for all of those who have supported the project the last three years.

A month later and we’re still waiting for warmer weather (it was snowing yesterday, April 16) but look forward to terminating the cover crops, planting soybeans, and seeing what the 2018 growing season may bring. I hope to be able to post more frequently in the coming year.

NOTE: I used to be able to post images as thumbnails where you could click on it for the full-size picture. This feature does not appear to be available, or if it is, there is a different way of doing so. If anyone has any tips, feel free to e-mail me. I briefly looked through the help topics and didn’t see anything other than setting a theme image for a post which is not what I want to do (or don’t think it is).

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Soil Health Nexus – New Resource

There is a new resource with information about soil health which may be of interest to the public as well as farmers. The Soil Health Nexus was started with a grant from the North Central Region Water Network. It pools the knowledge of 12 land grant universities. Its initial focus is on manure and manure management but it appears they will expand beyond this at some point.

The website states that the goals of the Soil Health Nexus are:

  • Maintain and grow our inventory of soil health research, training, and educational resources.
  • Produce regional publications, videos, webinars, and blogs relevant to soil health and manure research and management practices.
  • Develop regional research projects to promote conservation systems and practices such as cover crops, and no-till technologies that will lead to the improvement of soil and water quality in the region.
  • Form a research and education technical committee that will serve as a regional infrastructure for future development of new science in the area of soil health and manure management.
  • Continuing to grow participation among land—grant researchers, Extension staff and educators, and other partners to ensure access to locally relevant soil health and manure information across the North Central Region.
  • Build capacity in each state’s Land Grant system to deliver soil health training, research, and resources.

The Nexus has various informational articles and a blog. So far blog posts have been focused on the role of manure and manure management in soil health but should have additional content in the near future.