Building Organic Soil Health with Green Manure and Cover Crops

Final Report for FNC08-702

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $1,806.60
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


1. I currently farm 750 acres and this is also the farm I grew up on. I have been farming since 1991and have been certified organic since 1996, although that is how we have always farmed. Jane and I have four kids, the two oldest are at NDSU in Fargo, our oldest boy recently graduated from High School and is working at a machine shop in Dickinson and the youngest is in High School. We raise wheat, oats, barley, flax, sweet clover and mixed hay. We have 40 cow calf pairs and a small farrow to finish operation. I have a degree from Notih Dakota State School of Science. I worked as a mechanic till we started farming. I am a member of OCIA ofND #1, and am their current chapter president.
2. Yes I have used interseeding and companion cropping since 1994. I have interseeded sweet clover with all of my crops, although not every year. I have also used companion cropping with oats and peas.

To evaluate the success of terminating sweet clover with a roller/crimper.
To compare the stands of the cover crop with the various treatments before seeding and different seeding times.
Compare yield and crop quality the following year with wheat.

This project was to begin in 2008 with the establishment of the sweet clover, but due to the extreme drought it did not survive. In 2009 the sweet clover was interseeded with flax at 10 lbs. per acre and a stand of 4 to 6 plants per square foot was established.
On 7-14-10 when the sweet clover was in full bloom and 4-6 feet tall it was terminated. There were four different treatments used. 1- Disk once and cover crop to be seeded later. 2- Use the roller/crimper with immediate seeding of cover crop with a JD 750 no-till drill. 3- Disk twice and chisel plow once for the control plots. 4- Use the roller/crimper then come back later and seed with the no-till drill. On 8-4-10 the remaining 4 plots were seeded. There were 8 different plots 20 feet wide and 1320 feet long. A cover crop mix of9 different seeds was used. It consisted of Peas, Oats, Lentils, Soybean, Pearl Millet, Persian Clover, Radish, Turnips, Sunflower.

Pat Carr and Jeff Gunderson at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center who without their help providing the roller/crimper and no-till drill and Jeff setting the drill and driving the tractor this project would not have been possible.

Frank Kutka at the NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center for helping design the project and advice on the paperwork. Also his help measuring and setting up the plots.

Jim Hauck from Southwest Grain Certified Seed Plant for his work sourcing seed for this project.

The sweet clover on the west end of the strips averaged 4 feet tall and on the east end averaged 6-7 feet tall at the time it was terminated. The height and density of the sweet clover had a lot to do with the results. The plots that were just rolled had 50% to 75% kill rate on the sweet clover. The taller the plants and bigger the stalks the better the kill rate was. Where the heavier mat of sweet clover was weeds were 2 to 3 weeks behind coming up than where there was more bare ground. Kocia was the most pervasive weed. Bind weed had much more trouble coming through the rolled clover. On 8-4-10 when the cover crop was seeded the kill rate on the sweet clover went to 90% to 95%. The weeds that were up were set back somewhat by the drill when the cover crop was seeded. Establishment of the cover crop was poor due to the amount of cover on the ground, the drill wasn't able to cut through enough to get the seed in the ground. Where there was a bare spot there were cover crop plants. There was 10 to 15% establishment of the cover crop.
The plots that were rolled and seeded at the same time had a 90 to95% kill on the sweet clover, the drill did a nice job of cutting up the sweet clover but still couldn't get the seed in the ground. Kocia had a harder time coming through on these plots and I am not sure why. The bind weed seemed to have a harder time to. There was a 5% establishment of the cover crop on these plots. The plots that were disked once had a kill rate of 95 tolOO% of the sweet clover. On 8-4-10 when the cover crop was seeded the drill could easily get in the ground. The only problem was that sometimes it would drag some trash because the ground was loose. On these plots the weeds didn't start coming until after the cover crop was seeded, so they emerged about the same time as the cover crop. There was 50 to60% establishment of the cover crop on these plots. The plots that were disked twice and chiseled once were the control plots.
As I expected the plots that had more cover also stayed cooler, usually by 5 or 6 degrees. The plots that were rolled and seeded had much more cover to prevent wind and water erosion. These plots also still provided cover for pheasants, there wasn't as many as before the crop treatments but many more than regular summer fallow. If a drill that could get through the sweet clover to get the cover crop seed in the ground could be found I think this would work pretty well. I don't know why the weeds in the plots that were rolled came up sooner than the plots that were disked.
In 2011 due to the extreme wet conditions I was not able to seed any ground on this quarter so was not able to finish the wheat production patt of the project.

I know that just rolling the sweet clover isn't enough terminate it. The roller and no-till drill together would do a satisfactory job of terminating it. If the drill was modified with some sort of coulter and row cleaner in front of the seed disk blades, so there wasn't so much trash to go through, I think it would do a much better job. I had a field in another location that was to 'Wet to seed in 2010 that I summer fallowed. August 8 I seeded cover crop into it, with my drill, just to see what it would do. It turned out very nice, I think it was from having good seed to soil contact.Which I think was the main problem with the test plots.
This project wouldn't have been possible without the cost share, and cooperation of Pat Carr,Jeff Gunderson, Frank Kutka and NDSU Dickinson Experiment Station.
The disadvantage to a project like this is the paperwork and record keeping, but without it youdon't know where you ended up at from where you stated.

On July 14 2009 I gave a 15 minute talk at the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society summer meeting to approximately 200 producers. After my talk I had 15 to 20 minutes where I answered questions and talked with other producers from the audience. After I was done four other farmers talked with me one on one about the project for another 20 or 25 minutes. I have had other producers call me to visit about the project and neighbors that called to ask what I was doing. Due to the drought in 2008 and the project being moved back a year we couldn't take bus tours out because there wasn't anything to see at that time.


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.