Evaluation of an Annual Cover Crops for No-till Management

Final Report for FNC03-442

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2003: $5,868.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $1,300.00
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


I operate a 3,000 acre grain farm with my son-in-law in central North Dakota, Barnes County. I raise wheat for certified seed, dry beans, soybeans and corn. The farm has been in the family for more than 45 years. My father and I have always worked closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service on various soil conservation practices that offer. I am a minimum till farmer working toward a no-till operation. I have grassed waterways and shelterbelts on my farm.

My goal was to find an annual legume cover crop that I could use within my no-till system to increase residue, cover and to provide nitrogen credits for the next crop. The test was to use a follow-on crop to wheat within the same growing season.

In 2003, I soil tested my 160 acre no-till field, fertilized and seeded wheat. My first legume choices were hairy vetch to be flown on in four ten acre random strips after the last fungicide treatment and then drill in black lentils and field peas after the harvest. We flew on the hairy vetch as planned but at the time of the wheat harvest the fields were so dry we decided not to seed the lentils and peas.

In 2004 we chose a minimum till field in which to run our trial. The field was soil tested, fertilized and seeded to wheat. After the last fungicide spray, we flew on the hairy vetch only to discover that the hairy vetch (2003) was causing a major problem for my corn. I had lightly harrowed the field before seeding the corn that was enough to give the hairy vetch good soil contact and it grew vigorously competing with my corn. I was sorry that I had done the second hairy vetch trial. In 2004, the wheat was not harvested until September and there was not enough growing season left to test the lentils and peas. I harrowed the field to destroy the hairy vetch from causing problems in my fellow-on corn crop.

In 2005 we chose a different minimum till field; soil tested, fertilized and seeded my wheat. With the last fungicide spray I broadcast on red clover. We chose the legume, assuming that it would act as annual forage in this northern latitude. We were able to harvest our wheat mid August and followed the harvest by seeding black lentils and field peas with a double disk opener drill. All three-legume crops grew. On October 3rd, staff from the Carrington Research Extension Center collected biomass samples, dried and weighed then and estimated the nitrogen content based upon historical data for these crops.

I have been participating in a whole farm-planning project and as a part of that I have a team of six technical resource professionals that have been meeting with me twice a year. They include an adult farm management instructor (Vo-tech), agronomist (Extension), soil specialist (Commercial Soils Lab), a conservation planner ( NRCS), wildlife biologist (ND Natural Resources Trust), and quality of life (my pastor). This cover crop project concept came out of one of my team meetings. The team also participated in the project by matching the grant with the costs of flying on the vetch and the additional costs for the change to red clover.

The performance of the cover crops, estimated nitrogen accumulations, and costs of the practice are shown in table 1 of attached paper. North Dakota had unusually warm fall temperatures this year that allowed the legume crops to continue growth through mid November. Normally these legumes would not have survived killing frosts expected by October 3rd. The 1313 pounds of dry matter produced by field pea represents significant late season productivity. One intriguing observation was that the volunteer wheat appeared stunted by the field pea crop, but this effect was not observed in the stands of red clover or black lentils. On the basis of actual costs for the demonstration and only placing an economic value on the nitrogen accumulation, the red clover and lentils showed a negative balance while peas showed and economic gain of nearly $3/ac.

I think field peas would fit my goal of providing nitrogen credits, cover and increased residue. I am anxious to see the field conditions in these pea strips after winter. Will I have a problem with too much residue?

If the wheat can be harvested in a timely manner and similar field conditions, as was the case this year, I would definitely consider seeding the field down to field peas. I am concerned about the red clover in this field next year. If it grows as a biennial crop then that will be a problem for me. We have told other producer through the Carrington Research Extension Center’s Annual Report with the publication of the attached paper.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.