Alternative Strategies for Building Soil and Soil Erosion Control

Final Report for FNC95-107

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1995: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


We own 650 acres, 540 tillable. I have been farming for 24 years on this land. We grow soybeans, wheat, rye, vetch, confectionery sunflowers, alfalfa, millet, buckwheat and barley. We raise and sell 350 head of Holstein springers per year. All eight family members contribute to our farm operation.

The objective of this project is to increase soil fertility and organic matter on soil that is used for organically grown crops. Soybeans and sunflowers fit in rotation but don’t have much soil protection from wind and water erosion. Problem is economically feasible. Information will be shared with other farmers who are contemplating growing organically or reducing crop inputs.

Planting Rye and Vetch into Soybean Fields:
The soybean project was not as successful as I hoped it would be. Weather conditions did not cooperate very well for us. In 1996 we were very wet most of the year creating unfavorable conditions for timeliness of planting vetch and rye. We did not want to spread the rye or vetch to early for fear of it growing too tall in the soybeans and staining our organic bean seed at harvest. We get docked substantially when we get strained beans. When we did broadcast the rye and vetch the stand was to thin due to weather conditions and seed bed readiness. Where ever it was thin in 1996 the next year vetch did fill in. this is good and bad because it acts like a weed in my opinion. If you can cut it off before it sets seed in small grains fine, but if it makes seed it is very hard to separate it out of the wheat or barley. This gives us a problem as organic growers to sell our grain. So one has to time it in planting too allow it not to go to seed before the grain is harvested.

Samples were taken in one square foot area sites within the soybean field. We dried the vetch and weighed it. From that weight I calculated the dry biomass in pounds per acre. The nitrogen was calculated by multiplying 3% by the dry biomass weight. This figure came from the USDA year book of agriculture, “Green Manure and cover Crops” written by T. Hayden Rogers and Joel E. Gidden in 1957. The vetch sample weighed 836 pounds times 3% will equal 25 pounds of available nitrogen per acre. So we did gain some nitrogen along with winter cover to help stop soil erosion. But in my case I do not think that planting the vetch is worth the extra nitrogen if it stains the bean seed at harvest. We would lose the premium price for organic soybean seed creating an economic loss.

We did get an extension on this project in 1997. That year we went to 22” row spacing. Weather conditions were dry giving us a good seed bed for the soybeans. The soybean stand was so thick at the time of planting the vetch and rye that is smothered them out. Not enough sunlight was able to get down through the soybeans to get much of a stand started. So again conditions were not great for vetch and rye growth. So in October of 1997 we planted the rye and vetch right behind the combine and got a ½” stand before frost and snow. This did hold the soil from blowing and the rye in July of 1998 produced 60 bushels frost and snow. This did hold the soil form blowing and the rye in July of 1998 produced 60 bushels to the acre. Nice crop for our area. So I was very pleased with the outcome. Vetch not only produced some needed nitrogen but it also kept weed growth to a minimum. It also helped in less soil erosion.

Planting Rye and Vetch into Sunflower Fields:
This project is very timely in when to plant the rye and vetch to maximize beneficial use. Weather plays a big factor into getting a stand of vetch and rye. On our farm parts of the field were okay but most of the field had too thin of a stand. We took two samples of one square foot per site and weighed them. First sample of vetch biomass weighed 3430 pounds time 3% gave 103 pounds of available nitrogen per acre. The second sample of vetch biomass weighed 2147 pounds times 3% gave 64 pounds of available nitrogen per acre. I got the 3% factor fro the book “Green Manure and Cover Crops” Written by T. Hayden Rogers and Joel E. Gidden in the 1957 year book of agriculture published by the USDA.

We did notice that barley raised the next year on the ground not worked the previous fall produced 10 bushels less per acre. I feel that was because the seed bed was not as mellow but harder where the vetch was.

I plan a field day tours on my farm this summer which will be video taped and used at our NPSAS Convention at which I have been invited to speak on this project. Usually 200 or more attend this convention in January. Grant and Deuel County Soybean Association would also cooperate in another field day. I would be willing to make a presentation of the project if they so desire. We will make signs indicating a research plot is located here.


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.