Kura Clover Cover Crop Demonstration

Final Report for FNC98-242

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1998: $1,290.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


This is a 280 acre family farm with an additional 60 acres of rented ground. The farm has been a purebred Angus breeding stock dealer for 85 years. Livestock consists of 120 head of registered Black Angus cows. 50 head are sold as breeding stock and 100 head finished each year. 140 acres of corn is grown and the rest of the farm is hay or pasture. The cattle are rotationally grazed in 8 permanent pastures, which are sub divided using temporary fencing. All sloping land is contoured and minimum tillage is used for crops following corn.

The goals of the project are to demonstrate Kura Clover establishment, compare different Kura Clover varieties, provide a field sized demonstrations of corn planted into a living cover crop and compare nitrogen needs of corn into the cover crop.

Kura Clover is slow to establish taking up to three years to get a solid stand, however once established it is extremely persistent and vigorous. Existing research recommended seeding Kura Clover with Birdsfoot Trefoil in increase second year production. There are three available varieties of Kura Clover Cossack, Rizzo and Endura.

To compare the seedling vigor of the three varieties three blocks where established. Block one was seeded with Cossack at 7.5 lbs. per acre and 2.5 lbs. of Birdsfoot Trefoil. Block two was Endura and Rizzo seeded at 10 lbs. per acres and block three was Cossack seeded at 10 lbs. per acre.

Because Kura Cover is so slow to establish a clean seedbed was prepared and the seedling was broadcast then cultipacked. Seeding was completed on May 10th 1998 and one and a half quarts of Prowl were surface applied on May 20th.

The stand was evaluated each year to compare establishment differences and managed as hay and pasture until an adequate stand was available for the corn demonstration. Corn was planned to be planted in 2000 but the dry spring and possibility of a drought delayed the planting until 2001.

Four acres of corn was planted for the cover crop demonstration. The field was grazed once in early April then prepared for corn. 32 oz of Roundup Ultra with ammonium sulfate as applied May 10th.

FS 4060 a 100 day corn was planted May 18th at 28,000 population.

2.5 oz Hornet and 20 oz Roundup Ultra was sprayed in a 12 inch band on June 14th.

20 oz of Roundup Ultra with ammonium sulfate was applied June 25th.

80 lbs. of Urea nitrogen was applied broadcast on May 21st. Test plots were set up with 0, 40 and 80 lbs. of nitrogen. Late season tissue tests were taken to determine what level provided adequate levels of nitrogen fertilization.

Ken Albrect University of Wisconsin-Madison, who developed the procedure in small plot trials at Lancaster, Wisconsin, provided consultation on the project. Natural Resources Conservation Service provided seed for the project and Jim Ranum Natural Resources Conservation Service grassland conservationist provided planning, stand counts, field day assistance and set up and evaluated the nitrogen test plots.

For the establishment results there was little difference in the varieties. Establishment was slow as was expected. There were some volunteer legumes that appeared mostly Red Clover and Alfalfa. The herbicide worked very well and the field was bare well into June when there were some heavy rainfall events that caused some erosion and appeared to wash some seed downhill causing the stand to be thin in spots and extremely heavy in other areas. If I were to do the project again minimum tillage would be used with the herbicide.

Stand counts where taken by counting the plants in three square foot ring, ten times per plot, then averaging. Ring counts ranged from 0 to 20 in 1998. Average stand counts were as follows:

September 10, 1998
Plot 1, 3.3 Kura; 0.3 trefoil
Plot 2, 5 Kura; 1 other
Plot 3, 3 Kura; 0.5 other

October 1, 1999
Plot 1, 7.4 Kura; 0.4 trefoil
Plot 2, 8.1 Kura; 0.8 other
Plot 3, 9 Kura; 1.2 other

June 6, 2000
Plot 1, 20+ Kura, 1 trefoil
Plot 2, 20+ Kura
Plot 3, 20+ Kura

The field was managed as hay and pasture until 2001. The seeding year there was no harvest or pasturing. In 1999 the field was hayed on June 21st yielding 2.8 tons per acre then stockpiled for fall grazing providing feed for 80 stock cows, 12 calves and four bulls for 14 days. In 2000 the field was grazed as part of the rotational grazing system until mid summer then stockpiled and used by 100 cows for three weeks in November and December. In 2001 in the field was grazed once in April then four acres was planted to corn and the rest hayed twice then stockpiled until mid December.

Corn yield was measured with a weigh wagon and yielded 138 bushels to the acre, which was comparable to the same variety planted using conventional tillage. The moisture level at harvest on October 24th was still 32.6% considerably higher than the conventional tillage which was 23%. Corn stalks and pasture are being stockpiled for winter grazing in December 2001 and January 2002. No grazing had been done by December 12th plans are to start around December 26th.

End of season corn stalk test for nitrate nitrogen shows that the 80 lbs. rate was adequate with the following results:
Check, 500 (ppm)
40 lbs, 1500 (ppm)
80 lbs, 3500 (ppm)

The slow establishment of the Kura Clover allowed a lot of quack grass to get started. This is a plus if the use will be hay and pasture but makes planting corn difficult. A no till planter with weight and down pressure springs is required to get penetration through the grassy sod. Band spraying is difficult unless done with the planting pass. The dense root system of Kura Clover attracts pocket gophers and the field was rough. Using anhydrous ammonia would be better than surface application of nitrogen to eliminate some gopher pressure. For a producer with erosive ground needing corn silage this could be a viable system especially if they where set up to use balage. An early cutting can be made, and then the corn could be planted. Some bloat problems occurred in the spring of 2000. Three 2 year old heifers died. Caution should be used to graze after the grass is growing and the Kura is a bit course. Fresh growth of Kura Clover can be toxic. There is no economic return in the establishment year, which is similar to establishing a native warm season grass but once established it should last indefinitely. Some Kura Clover has spread to other areas of the pasture from seed carried by the cows. This may be a concern in the future if it is difficult to contain and to control.

Short term economics for a cover crop will be negative because of the time it takes to get the Kura Clover established, however the long term results may well be positive because of the persistence the Kura Clover will provide. Environmentally this system has great potential for erodible lands where silage production is used. The Kura Clover – quack grass pasture once established is highly productive and will require very limited additional inputs.

The project was publicized through field days and the media. A pasture walk featuring the demonstration was held on July 14th 1999. The walk was promoted by a mailing to 300 on the pasture walk mailing list, all the media in a 75 mile radius, extension offices and Natural Resources Conservation Service offices. Twenty five attended the walk. A field day was held September 12th 2001 promoted by extension offices and Natural Resources Conservation Service offices and the media. Thirteen people attended ranging from the local coop, NRCS, environmental specialist, and grassland specialist. This report will be sent to the NRCS plant materials program extension and NRCS offices. Plant counts will be taken next spring to get more information on recovery after corn and the pasture will be monitored for production in future years. Cooperating with the U of W at Madison, the project may get repeated in 2003. A power point presentation of the project will be developed during the winter of 2002 and emailed to the SARE program and made available to NRCS and Extension.


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.