Cover Crops: Lots of Options
There are many options – but few answers - for using cover crops to maintain farm soil, Bruce Schwartau said.
When to add cover crops? What kind to add? What to do with them? And some folks use ... radishes?
“That was a surprise to me, to all of a sudden run across a field of radishes, that people were using,” Schwartau, a former Dodge County Extension educator and current University of Minnesota Extension worker, said Sept. 19 during a “Plowville” Conservation Cover Crop Field Day at the Don and Wendy Stroebl farm between Kasson and Dodge Center.
“But you take a look: How many different herbicides we have, how many different cover crops we have, and then the rotations,” he said. “There are so many options in that mix that, basically, it says, We’ve got a research to do yet, before we can come up with great answers. Right now we’re still really in the infancy of, what are the best options? Because not every farm is like every other farm, and research can really only happen once a year.”
The event, hosted by the Dodge Soil and Water Conservation District, also honored the 65th anniversary of the Plowville national soil conservation district eld day, held in September, 1952 on the Henry Snow farm – across County Highway 34 from the Stroebl farm.
Plowville attracted some 125,000 visitors – including presidential candidates Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, who were campaigning during that year’s presidential election.
The focus then was the option of conservation farming through terraces, strip tillage and contour plowing.
This year it was cover crops - grasses, legumes or forbs planted to provide seasonal soil cover on cropland when the soil would otherwise be bare, such as before the crop emerges in spring or after fall harvest – plus reduced tillage, vertical tillage, and strip tillage, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Studying all those cover crop possibilities is exciting and important, said Schwartau, who focuses on rural community economics through the Extension.
Experts spoke to a good crowd regarding practical advice on how and when to use cover crops; practical cover crop equipment designs for tight budgets; and funding opportunities. “I think one of the challenges is going to be funding some of the research, as well,” Schwartau said. “It’s important research. But there’s no one who really profits from it very much when we talk about conserving the soil – except the farmers themselves. Finding the funding, sometimes, to do this, we’re not going to see chemical companies, we’re not going to see the fertilizer companies funding this research. So we need to take a look: How are we going to fund this research?”
Stroebl farms 115 acres of sweet corn and soy beans. He plants a cover crop after the annual corn harvest.
He said he was pleased to host the event.
“It’s kind of exciting, when you get different implement dealers to bring in their equipment to show what it’ll do in the elds and everything,” he said. “It’s pretty educational. If it’ll work with your ground, what kind of a cover crop do you use? What won’t work with your operation? It’s all kind of a learning experience. What chemicals won’t interfere with it? So it’s all kind of interesting. It’s probably the future. Everything’s about change. For the better, hopefully.” Schwartau said his father, Robert Schwartau, placed second in the contour plowing division during competition at the original Plowville event.
Schwartau’s brother, Chuck, regional director of the Rochester-based UM Extension, said it was “kind of special” to be part of the 65th anniversary.
“It’s nice to think that, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a connection back to that activity,’ and in just a small way share a bit of it today with that trophy our dad won as part of that plowing contest,” he said. “Just a little bit of connection makes you proud to be part of agriculture and part of what’s going on in this area.”