Farmer-to-Farmer Cover Crop Network Complementing On-Farm and On-Station Trials

Final Report for LNC95-083

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1995: $46,954.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $65,378.00
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Jerry Jost
Kansas Rural Center
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Project Information

Summary:

A network of farmers and researchers shared ideas, practical experiences and research information on cover crop rotations. A collaborative process established partnerships between farmers and Kansas State University (KSU) researchers on the assessment of crop productivity, soil quality, nitrogen fixation, soil water use, yield risk and economic returns with cover crops in a wheat-grain sorghum rotation. Ten farmers across two farmer clusters conducted cover crop trials on their farms with narrow, farm-scale plots. Two KSU Experiment Stations conducted complementary research. Joint visits on farms and stations gave practical assessments of the research partnership. Outreach included field days, written articles, and educational workshops.

The farmer-to-farmer cover crop network developed a better understanding of research and management guidelines on cover crops in a wheat to grain sorghum rotation. Consistent cover crop stands and weed competition emerged as a priority management concern along with soil moisture conservation.

The poor growing conditions in the fall and winter of 1995-1996 resulted in poor stand establishment of both cover crops on most farm sites. The average biomass of cover crops prior to spring tillage was less than half a ton, and the nitrogen contribution from the cover crop biomass ranged from only 2 lb/a to 71 lb/a. The resulting sorghum yields in 1996 were lower with cover crop as compared to without (20 bu per acre lower), though leaf tissue N status showed adequate levels in both treatments. Soil water measurements during the growing season indicated lower soil moisture in the cover crop plots, perhaps because of spring depletion prior to when the cover crop was destroyed.

Cover crop establishment was much better in the fall and winter of 1996-1997, resulting in an average of over a ton of cover crop above ground biomass. The range was from a low of 22 lb/a, up to 164 lb/a N from vetch. On the two farms with both cover crops planted side-by-side, the vetch produced more biomass and N than the pea.

Subsequent sorghum yields were higher in the cover crop plots in 1997 as compared to 1996, and were not significantly different than the fertilized control plots. Leaf tissue N also indicated adequate nitrogen status in both treatments. Soil water measurements in 1997 also were not different between plots. Observations by the farmer participants indicate that the timing of N release seems to be different from the cover crop as compared to fertilizer, and in some cases the sorghum plots following cover crops did not get dark green until fairly late in the season.

Hairy vetch at the KSU station trials provided excellent fall ground cover to provide protection from soil erosion. The average potential amount of N to be mineralized for use by the sorghum crop was 147 lb/a and 188 lb/a. In sorghum following vetch, leaf N did not increase meaningfully above an N rate of 30 lb/a. Sorghum following vetch required 1 to 2 days less time to reach half bloom than sorghum without a preceding cover crop. Averaged over N rates, sorghum yields were 6 to 10 bu/a more after vetch than where no cover crop had been grown. Highest yields were attained with an N rate of 90 lb/a in sorghum without prior vetch and with 30 lb/a of N in sorghum following vetch. The positive effect vetch on the yield of sorghum without fertilizer N was equivalent to between 70 lb/a and 89 lb/a of N relative to termination date. A small, but significant increase in the number of heads per plant accounted for most of the treatment effects on yield.

Winter pea cover crop trials at the KSU station resulted in nitrogen credited to the cover crop up to 30 lb N/a. As with other N rate studies on the South Central Field, the first increment of fertilizer N had the greatest effect on leaf and whole plant N and grain yield.

Introduction:

Two years of field data have been collected and analyzed with the farm trials. Poor growing conditions for the cover crop in the fall and winter of 1995-1996 resulted in poor stand establishment of both cover crops on most farm sites. The average biomass of cover crops prior to spring tillage was less than half a ton, and the nitrogen contribution from the cover crop biomass ranged from only 2 lb/a to 71 lb/a. The resulting sorghum yields in 1996 were quite a bit lower with cover crop as compared to without (20 bu per acre lower), though leaf tissue N status showed adequate levels in both treatments. Soil water measurements during the growing season indicated lower soil moisture in the cover crop plots, perhaps because of spring depletion prior to when the cover crop was destroyed.

Cover crop establishment was much better in the fall and winter of 1996-1997, resulting in an average of over a ton of cover crop above ground biomass, contributing 72 lb/a N. The range was from a low of 22 lb/A, up to 164 lb/A N on one farm from vetch.

Subsequent sorghum yields were higher in the cover crop plots in 1997 as compared to 1996, and were not significantly different than the fertilized control plots. Leaf tissue N also indicated adequate nitrogen status in both treatments. Soil water measurements in 1997 also were not different between plots. Observations by the farmer participants indicate that the timing of N release seems to be different from the cover crop as compared to fertilizer, and in some cases the sorghum plots following cover crops did not get dark green until fairly late in the season.

Results from the Kansas State University station trials showed dry matter yields of 2165 tons/a and 2.99 tons/a were produced by hairy vetch planted in mid-September following winter wheat and terminated on April 25 and May 14, respectively. The corresponding potential N contribution was 147 lb/a and 188 lb/a for the succeeding sorghum crop. In a season- with ample rainfall, delayed vetch termination tended to result in higher sorghum leaf N levels and grain yields, but treatment differences were not always significant. The positive effect of the early and late termination dates of vetch on the yield of sorghum without fertilizer N was equivalent to about 70 lb/a and 89 lb/a of N. Sorghum yields after vetch averaged over N rates were 6 to 10 bu/a more than without a preceding cover crop.

In a tillage trial, hairy vetch planted in mid-September following winter wheat produced 2.05 tons of dry matter by the time it was terminated the following May. Vetch contained an average of 128 lb/a of nitrogen (N). Method of vetch termination (no-till vs disk) had no effect on grain sorghum flag-leaf N concentrations or on yields. Vetch significantly increased sorghum leaf N and also increased sorghum grain yield by nearly 22 bu/a in the absence of fertilizer N. The apparent N contribution to sorghum yield by the vetch was approximately 58 lb/a.

The KSU station trials with Austrian winter peas had fall ground cover ranged from 26 to 36 percent. Winter pea above ground biomass terminated May 16 was about one-half that of terminated June 4. Nitrogen credited to the cover crop ranged from 9.48 to 30.70 lb N/ac. The overall effect of the cover crop and N fertilizer on flag leaf and whole plant N and grain yield was not always significant or consistent. The first increment of fertilizer N had the greatest effect on leaf and whole plant N and grain yield. Under the June termination, approximately 30 lb/a N as fertilizer was needed to produce a comparable sorghum yield to the cover crop with no added N.

Project Objectives:

1. A network of farmers will share ideas, practical experiences and research information on cover crop rotations.
2. A collaborative process will build research partnerships between farmers and Kansas State University researchers on the assessment of soil quality, crop productivity, soil water use, and economic profit with cover crops in a wheat-grain sorghum rotation.
3. An evaluative process will serve as a feedback loop into the continuing development of the partnership between farmers and researchers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Rhonda Janke

Research

Materials and methods:

Project participants developed the project and shared their observations through 33 meetings that included discussions on goals, management priorities, research procedures, field visits, and data review. Over a period of four years farmers and researchers ranked management and research priorities to focus past and future research directions.

A dozen farmers across two farmer clusters conducted cover crop trials on their farms using narrow, farm-scale plots. The farm trials have two field treatments: the rotation with a winter legume cover and the rotation without a legume using "best management inputs." The field-size trials avoid field irregularities to the best extent possible. The farmers collect data on rainfall, dates and rates of field operations, labor and machinery requirements, production costs and crop yields. Farmers choose the best opportunity planting dates for the two cover crops of their choice -- hairy vetch and Austrian winter peas. These were cover crops which at least one farmer had some past experience. An optimal target termination date was chosen for all the cluster farm trials. Data on soil water, soil fertility, cover crop growth, and nitrogen tissue tests were collected. Cover crop biomass samples were randomly selected and weighed and dried. Farm data collection was uniformly conducted following a research protocol to developed by Rhonda Janke, David Norman, and Stan Freyenberger that included both agronomic and economic analysis. Janke visited selected farm and station trials to collect soil quality data. Freyenberger made on-farm visits, phone interviews, and mail surveys to get economic information.

The KSU Hutchinson Station researched Austrian winter peas and the KSU Hesston Station investigated hairy vetch in a wheat-winter annual cover crop-grain sorghum rotation. Check plots without a cover crop were used for comparison. Evaluation of cover stands were made prior to winter dormancy and at termination the following spring. Dry matter yields and nitrogen content were determined prior to legume termination. Cover crop termination dates were significantly delayed by an early drought followed by a wet spring. Grain sorghum was planted in June. Soil profile water was measured gravimetrically or by neutron probe throughout the trial. Soil fertility of each plot was characterized in terms of nitrogen, pH, organic matter, available phosphorus and exchangeable potassium. Soil profile nitrogen at a depth of 0-3' was analyzed. Four nitrogen rates (0,30,60, and 90 lb/a) were applied to determine legume nitrogen credit equivalents. Nitrogen utilization by grain sorghum were assessed by analysis of whole plants at sixth-leaf stage, flag leaves at late boot/early heading, and whole plants at maturity. Sorghum yields and grain quality were recorded. A randomized complete block design was used with a factorial combination of treatment variables. Treatments were replicated four times.

All trials were in south-central Kansas. Median rainfall is 28 inches per year. Growing degree- days range from 4000 to 4400. Biological windows derived from the Newhall Simulation model range from 121 to 210 days. The region is Arkansas river lowlands, high plains, Wellington-McPherson lowlands, and borders the Flint Hills uplands.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1.

Cooperating farmers and researchers have exchanged trial data and observations. Project participants shared their observations and data from their trials through 33 meetings used in the development and outreach of the project.

Improving soil quality and fixing nitrogen have always been a primary incentive for farmers to use cover crops. Conserving profits, moisture, and labor have remained priority management concerns. Two management factors have clearly risen as new priority management factors, getting consistent cover crop establishment and using the cover crops for grazing. Crop establishment concerns target weed control and good quality hairy vetch seed.

Scientists ranked similar management interests as farmers but tend to place less emphasis on labor requirements. Establishment success and grazing opportunities have become emerging new priority concerns.

Objective 2.

SARE COVER CROPS TRIALS -- ON-FARM RESEARCH DATA
by Rhonda Janke

Materials and Methods:
Nine farms were selected as research sites based on the interest of the cooperator in growing cover crops, in participating in the trial, and willingness to follow agreed upon protocols and collect yield data. Research staff collected the soil samples, leaves for tissue nutrient analysis, and cover crop biomass and nutrient data. Protocols were developed through a series of meetings with researchers and farmers.

Two winter annual cover crops were chosen; Austrian winter pea, and hairy vetch. In 1996, six farms used hairy vetch, and 3 grew Austrian winter pea. In 1997, 4 grew hairy vetch, three grew Austrian winter pea, and 2 farms had plots of each. All farms each year planted an adjacent control plot with no cover crop. Recommended rates of nitrogen fertilizer were used on the control plot. The same variety of grain sorghum (Pioneer 8505) was used in all plots in both years. Tillage in the cover crop plots and the control plots were identical within each farm each year, but varied slightly from farm to farm, with each farmer using their normal practice. In all cases except one, the cover crop was killed with the preplant tillage operation. One farmer killed the cover crop with herbicide prior to no-till planting the sorghum.

Soil samples were collected in the late fall after cover crop planting, but prior to maximum biomass production as a "before" measurement of soil nutrient status. Soil samples were again collected in the late fall, after sorghum harvest, as an "after" measurement. All soil samples were collected to a depth of 24" in increments of 0-6" 6-12" and 12-24" using a hand corer. One end of the experimental plots was designated for intensive sampling for all measurements. Five cores per plot were collected and bulked for analysis. Similar sub-samples were collected for cover crop % cover using a rope-knot counting method (2 transects per plot), cover crop biomass (4 ft. sq. sub-samples), and sorghum leaf tissue analysis at early heading (10 leaves per plot). Soil water content was measured using an 'Aquaterr' soil water capacitance probe at depths of 0-6" and 6-12" (5 samples per plot). All data were analyzed using analysis of variance, with two treatments (with vs. without cover crop) and nine replications, with each farm serving as a replicate.

Results:
Poor growing conditions for the cover crop in the fall and winter of 1995-1996 resulted in poor stand establishment of both cover crops on most farm sites. The average biomass of cover crops prior to spring tillage was less than half a ton, and the nitrogen contribution from the cover crop biomass ranged from only 2 lb/A to 71 lb/A (Table 1). The resulting sorghum yields in 1996 were quite a bit lower with cover crop as compared to without (20 bu per acre lower), though leaf tissue N status showed adequate levels in both treatments (Table 2). Soil water measurements during the growing season indicated lower soil moisture in the cover crop plots, perhaps because of spring depletion prior to when the cover crop was destroyed. This result was somewhat surprising in this particular growing season however, since late spring rains delayed cover crop killing and tilling.

Cover crop establishment was much better in the fall and winter of 1996-1997, resulting in an average of over a ton of cover crop above ground biomass, contributing 72 lb/A N (Table 3). The range was from a low of 22 lb/A, up to 164 lb/A N on one farm from vetch. Few conclusions can be made from a comparison of vetch and pea at this point in time, and was not an objective of this study, since the choice of cover crop depends more on how the cover crop fits into the overall farm system, and not just biomass or N produced as a rotation crop. However, on the two farms with both cover crops planted side-by-side, the vetch produced more biomass and N than the pea.

Subsequent sorghum yields were higher in the cover crop plots in 1997 as compared to 1996, and were not significantly different than the fertilized control plots (Table 4). Leaf tissue N also indicated adequate nitrogen status in both treatments. Soil water measurements in 1997 also were not different between plots. Observations by the farmer participants indicate that the timing of N release seems to be different from the cover crop as compared to fertilizer, and in some cases the sorghum plots following cover crops did not get dark green until fairly late in the season.

Soil nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, pH, organic matter etc. levels were not different between the cover crop and control plots in either year within each farm site, and were also not different in the "before" samples as compared to the "after" (data not presented). Though not significant, there was a trend for lower mineral N levels following cover crops as compared to the fertilized plots. From this data, we do not know if the plots had lower N status overall, or if the N was simply tied up in organic forms (plant residue and microbial biomass). The study was also not able to determine if this potentially stored N could be released for crop growth later in the rotation cycle. Some samples were analyzed for soil quality factors such as water infiltration rate and water stable aggregates. After only one year of cover crop, no differences were seen in these factors, though other data sets have indicated that two or more cycles through the legume portion of the rotation may be required to change these soil physical factors significantly.

Conclusions:
More research is needed on the long term benefits of legumes in rotation, including perennial legumes as well as winter and summer annuals. On-farm data can give meaningful results, and complement field station data. Farmers benefitted from seeing how their farm compared to others in the trial, and several farmers commented that they plan to continue using cover crops. Most would not do replicated on-farm research, or even establish a "control" plot if there was not the incentive to pool their data with others. Many also would not have collected the required soils data without Rural Center and KSU researcher time and muscle power. The sharing of planting, tilling, and other problem solving experiences were a valuable part of the annual meetings where the actual field trial data was presented.

EFFECTS OF HAIRY VETCH WINTER COVER CROP TERMINATION DATE AND NITROGEN RATES ON GRAIN SORGHUM
by Mark M. Claassen

Summary
Dry matter yields of 2165 tons/a and 2.99 tons/a were produced by hairy vetch planted in mid-September following winter wheat and terminated on April 25 (DOT 1) and May 14 (DOT 2), respectively. The corresponding potential N contribution was 147 lb/a and 188 lb/a for the succeeding sorghum crop. In a season with ample rainfall, delayed vetch termination tended to result in higher sorghum leaf N levels and grain yields, but treatment differences were not always significant. The positive effect of DOT 1 and DOT 2 vetch on the yield of sorghum without fertilizer N was equivalent to about 70 lb/a and 89 lb/a of N. Sorghum yields after vetch averaged over N rates were 6 to 10 bu/a more than without a preceding cover crop.

Introduction
Interest in the use of legume winter cover crops has been rekindled by concerns for soil and water conservation, dependency on commercial fertilizer, and maintenance of soil quality. Hairy vetch is a good candidate for the cover crop role because it can be established in the fall when water use is reduced, it has winter hardiness, and it can fix substantial nitrogen (N). This experiment was conducted to investigate the effect of hairy vetch and N fertilizer rates on the supply of N to the succeeding grain sorghum crop as well as to assess sorghum yield response when the vetch is terminated at different time intervals ahead of sorghum planting.

Procedures
The experiment was established on a Geary silt loam soil on which unfertilized winter wheat was grown in 1995 and 1996. Reduced tillage practices with a disk and field cultivator were used to control weeds and prepare a seedbed. Hairy vetch plots were planted at 15 lb/a in 8 in. rows with a grain drill equipped with double-disk openers on September 13, 1996.

Rainfall shortly after planting favored hairy vetch fall stand establishment. Precipitation during the entire vetch growing season was near to or slightly above normal. Volunteer wheat was controlled by a mid-March application of Fusilade + crop oil concentrate (2 oz ai/a + 1% v/v). One set of vetch plots was terminated early by disking April 25. Hairy vetch in a second set of plots was terminated in like manner on May 14.

Vetch forage yield was determined by harvesting a 1 meter' area from each plot immediately before termination. Nitrogen fertilizer treatments were broadcast as ammonium nitrate on June 23, 1997. All plots received 35 lb/a of P205, which was banded as 0-46-0 at planting. Pioneer 8505 grain sorghum treated with Concep III safener and Gaucho insecticide was planted after rain delay at approximately 42,000 seeds/a on July 3, 1997. Weeds were controlled with preemergence application of Microtech + atrazine (2.5 + 0.25 lb ai/a). Grain sorghum was combine harvested on November 6.

Results
Initial soil nitrate N (0 to 2 ft) and available P (0 to 6 in.) averaged 19 lb/a and 40 lb/a, respectively, with an organic matter level of 2.1%. Hairy vetch provided excellent fall ground cover (63%) to provide protection from soil erosion (Table 1). At DOT 1, vetch was about 16 to 18 in. tall and had not reached bloom stage. A few plants were beginning to bloom at DOT 2. Average hairy vetch dry matter yield was 2.66 tons/a at DOT 1 and nearly 3.0 tons/a at DOT 2. The average N content was 2.76% and 3.15%, respectively. Consequently, the average potential amount of N to be mineralized for use by the sorghum crop was 147 lb/a and 188 lb/a.

Disking to terminate hairy vetch growth did not adversely affect soil moisture at the surface because of ample spring rains, which ultimately delayed planting. Sorghum stands averaged 39,560 plants/a and were relatively uniform across treatments (Table 2). At low N rates, leaf N at boot to early heading stage was higher in sorghum after vetch than in sorghum without a prior vetch cover crop. Highest leaf N values occurred in sorghum following DOT 2 vetch. However, the effect of vetch termination date on leaf N was not always significant or consistent. The overall effect of N rate on leaf N was significant. A trend of increasing leaf N as N rate increased was consistent in sorghum without prior vetch. However, approximately 66 lb/a of N fertilizer was required to significantly increase leaf N in the absence of the cover crop. In sorghum following vetch, leaf N did not increase meaningfully above an N rate of 30 lb/a. At the zero N rate, vetch from DOT 1 and DOT 2 increased sorghum leaf N equivalent to that of 27 lb/a and 66 lb/a of fertilizer N. Sorghum following vetch required 1 to 2 days less time to reach half bloom than sorghum without a preceding cover crop. Averaged over N rates, sorghum yields were 6 to 10 bu/a more after vetch than where no cover crop had been grown. Highest yields were attained with an N rate of 90 lb/a in sorghum without prior vetch and with 30 lb/a of N in sorghum following vetch. The positive effect of DOT 1 and DOT 2 vetch on the yield of sorghum without fertilizer N was equivalent to about 70 lb/a and 89 lb/a of N, respectively. A small, but significant increase in the number of heads per plant accounted for most of the treatment effects on yield.

HAIRY VETCH WINTER COVER C AND NITROGEN RATE EFFECTS ON GRAIN SORGHUM
by Mark M. Claassen

Summary
Hairy vetch planted in mid-September following winter wheat produced 2.05 tons of dry matter by the time it was terminated the following May. Vetch contained an average of 128 lb/a of nitrogen (N). Method of vetch termination (no-till vs disk) had no effect on grain sorghum flag-leaf N concentrations or on yields. Vetch significantly increased sorghum leaf N and also increased sorghum grain yield by nearly 22 bu/a in the absence of fertilizer N. The apparent N contribution to sorghum yield by the vetch was approximately 58 lb/a.

Introduction
Hairy vetch may be utilized as a winter cover crop after wheat and prior to grain sorghum planted in the following spring. The amount of N contributed by hairy vetch to grain sorghum in this cropping system remains under investigation. Termination of vetch by tillage prior to sorghum planting can cause significant loss of surface soil moisture. On the other hand, there are concerns that use of herbicides to terminate the vetch may not allow adequate release of N from vetch in the absence of tillage. This experiment was conducted to evaluate hairy vetch termination method and N rate effects on grain sorghum N uptake and yield.

Procedures
The experiment site was located on a Smolan silt loam on which a vetch-grain sorghum-winter wheat cropping system had been established initially in the fall of 1994. Wheat grown in 1996 had not been fertilized. In this second cycle, hairy vetch was no-till planted on September 13, 1996, into wheat stubble in which weeds and volunteer plants had been controlled with Roundup. A grain drill with double disk openers on 7 in. spacing was used to seed the vetch at 15 lb/a. In the following spring, vetch forage yield was determined by harvesting a I meter' area in 12 representative plots just prior to vetch termination. Vetch was sprayed on May 15 at very early boom stage with Roundup + 2,4-DLVE + Premier 90 nonionic surfactant (0.375 + 0.71 lb ae/a + 0.5%). Tillage plots were disked on May 17. Rains delayed N application and planting. Nitrogen fertilizer treatments were broadcast as ammonium nitrate on July 4. Pioneer 8500 grain sorghum treated with Concep 11 safener and Gaucho insecticide was planted at approximately 42,000 seeds/a on the same day. Weeds were controlled with preemergence application of Microtech + atrazine (2.0 + 0.25 lb ai/a). Grain sorghum was combine harvested on November 7.

Results
Fall rains promoted vetch emergence and stand establishment. Seasonal precipitation for vetch was near to or slightly above normal. At the time of termination, vetch was 22 to 25 in. tall and had produced an average dry matter yield of about 2 tons/a with an average N content of 3.12% (Table 3). As a result, the potential amount of N to be mineralized for use by the sorghum crop averaged 128 lb/a. Sorghum stands averaged about 36,700 plants/a and were not affected by tillage or vetch treatments. Rainfall during the summer months was above normal. Sorghum following vetch reached half bloom I day earlier than after no cover crop. Also, half bloom for no-till sorghum was about I day earlier in comparison with sorghum in tilled plots. Vetch significantly increased the N concentration of sorghum flag leaves at the zero N rate, but not at 60 lb N/a. In sorghum following vetch, leaf N response to fertilizer was inconsistent at the 30 lb N/a rate, but reached a maximum of 2.77 to 2.85 % with 60 lb N/a. Tillage had no affect on leaf N level in sorghum. Grain yields increased by nearly 22 bu/a in unfertilized sorghum after vetch vs no vetch. This positive effect of vetch was equivalent to approximately 58 lb/a of N. Yield increase correlated with a slight increase in the number of heads per plant. Both vetch and N fertilizer increased sorghum grain test slightly.

EFFECTS OF TERMINATION DATE OF AUSTRIAN WINTER PEA WINTER COVER CROP AND NITROGEN RATES ON GRAIN SORGHUM
by W. F. Heer

Summary
This was the first year for this rotation. The effects of the cover crop most likely were not expressed. Limited growth of the cover crop (winter peas) due to weather conditions produced limited amounts of organic nitrogen. Therefore, the effects of the cover crop when compared to fertilizer N were limited and varied. The rotation is being continued and the wheat crop has been planted for 1998 harvest. After harvest of the wheat a second cycle of the cover crop will be planted.

Introduction
There is a renewed interest in the use of winter cover crops as a means of soil and water conservation, a substitute for commercial fertilizer, and the maintenance of soil quality. One of the winter cover crops that may be a good candidate for the above is winter peas. Winter peas are established in the fall, over-winter, produce sufficient spring foliage, and are returned to the soil prior to planting of a summer annual. In that it is a legume, there is a potential for adding nitrogen to the soil system. With this in mind, research projects were established at the South Central Experiment Field to evaluate the effect of winter peas, sweet clover, and hairy vetch on their ability to supply N to the succeeding grain sorghum crop when compared to commercial fertilizer N.

Procedures
The research was conducted at the KSU South Central Experiment Field, Hutchinson. The soil in the experimental area was an Ost loam. The site had been in wheat prior to starting the cover crop cropping system. The research used a randomized block design and was replicated four times. Cover crop treatments consisted of fall planted winter peas with termination dates in April and May, and no cover crop (fallow). The winter peas were planted on September 14, 1995 at a rate of 35 lb/a in 10 inch rows with a double disk opener grain drill. Actual dates of termination (DOT) were May 16, 1996 (DOT1) and June 4, 1996 (DOT2). Prior to termination of the cover crop, above ground biomass samples were taken from a one square meter area. These samples were used to determine forage yield (winter pea and other), and forage nitrogen and phosphate content for the winter pea portion. Fertilizer treatments consisted of four fertilizer N levels (0, 30, 60, and 90 lb N/a). Nitrogen treatments were broadcast applied as NH4N03 (34-0-0) prior to planting of grain sorghum on June 17, 1996. Phosphate was applied at a rate of 40 lbs P205 in the row at planting. Grain sorghum plots were harvested on November 25 (reps 1 and 2) and December 8, 1996 (reps 3 and 4) to determine grain yield, moisture, and test weight, and grain nitrogen and phosphate content.

Results
Winter pea cover crop and grain sorghum results are summarized in Tables 1 and 2 respectively. Soil conditions at planting of the winter peas were excellent with good moisture. However, the mid-September planting date was later than desired due to above normal rainfall in late August and early September. After planting temperatures cooled and limited fall growth in the winter peas occurred.

Fall ground cover ranged from 26 to 36 percent with no significant differences across treatments (table 1). The winter months were cool and dry. This limited growth and delayed the first date of termination (DOT1) from early April to May 16. Date of termination 2 (DOT2) was also delayed by wet conditions in May to June 4. Winter pea above ground biomass at DOTI was about one-half that of DOT2 (table 1). However, there were no significant differences in dry matter (DM) production within DOTs. Differences in the percent N in the DM existed in the treatments for DOT2. These differences are not related the treatment but to natural occurrence (no treatments were applied to the cover crop plots prior to termination).

Considerable nitrogen was produced by the winter pea cover crop. Nitrogen credited to the cover crop ranged from 9.48 to 30.70 lb N/ac. These N levels were considerably low and did not carry forward to increased grain yield in the grain sorghum crop. Only the no-N treatments with and without the cover crop and the DOT 1 no cover crop and cover crop plus 90 lb/a N treatments had significantly lower grain yields (table 2). Flag leaf N (%) and whole plant N (%) were decreased in the no-N treatments with or without cover crop. The highest flag leaf and whole plant N occurred in the April cover crop plus 90 lb/a N treatment. Thus, the overall effect of the cover crop and N fertilizer on flag leaf and whole plant N and grain yield was not always significant or consistent.

As with other N rate studies on the South Central Field, the first increment of fertilizer N had the greatest effect on leaf and whole plant N and grain yield. Sorghum yields in DOT1 were not significantly different by treatment. In DOT2 approximately 3 0 lb/a N as fertilizer was needed to produce a comparable sorghum yield to the cover crop with no added N. Highest sorghum yields occurred in the DOT1 no-cover crop plus 30 lb/a N and DOT2 cover crop plus 30 and 60 lb/a N treatments.

The project evaluator has participated in project meetings and conducted interviews with project collaborators.

Objective 3.

Kansas Center for Rural Initiatives
Carol A. Peak
Evaluation Report
For the Kansas Rural Center SARE project
"Farmer-to- Farmer Cover Crop Network Complementing On-Farm and On-Station Trials"
May 12,1998

The Kansas Rural Center contracted with the Kansas Center for Rural Initiatives (KCRI) to provide evaluation services for the SARE project "Farmer-to-Farmer Cover Crop Network Complementing On-Farm and On-Station Trials." KCRI was asked to interview project participant to assess the effectiveness of project methods and to serve as a process observer at farmer/scientist focus sessions.

The evaluation consisted of a qualitative study designed to answer the following evaluation questions,

• How can research partnerships between farmers and researchers best be established?
• How can meaning research projects be designed?
• How should valid data be collected?
• How should documentation occur?
• How should information be fed back to all stakeholders?

To learn the answers to these questions several evaluation activities were completed. The evaluator attended the farmer/scientist focus sessions to provide immediate feedback to the project director and to observe the interaction among the participants. Two site visits were conducted to interview the director of one of the participating agronomy research stations and three participating farmers. In addition, interviews with scientists located on the Kansas State University campus were conducted.

This report looks primarily at the interaction between one agronomy station scientist, two of his constituent farmers, and campus-based researchers participating in the project. The station scientist has held his position for a number of years and holds a Ph.D. in agronomy. He and his family live on the station and are active in the local community. The farmers working with this station live within a few miles of the facility. One farm family is active in the Heartland Network and is working to incorporate more sustainable farming practices into their operation. The female member of this farmer team has served as coordinator for this project, and for the Heartland Network cluster, in their area. This farmer family is identified as Farmer #1 in this report. The other farmer, Farmer #2, describes himself as "conventional" although his farming practice includes no-till. He has not been active in the local farmer cluster of the Heartland Network. The farmers are college graduates, one in agronomy. The campus-based scientists participating in the project have worked actively in support of the Heartland Network. They form the core of the small group of College of Agriculture faculty who are strongly committed to the sustainable agriculture movement.

Both the station scientist and the farmers describe their interaction on farming issues as limited prior to this project. They were acquainted, partially due to having lived in the same school district. However, the station scientist reported that Farmer #1 had never attended a field day held on the station prior to the project. Both the station scientist and Farmer #1 were open in stating that their relationship prior to the project was limited and characterized by suspicion and doubt. Farmer #2 reported more contact with the station scientist prior to the project but this contact was limited to visits to field days on the station. This farmer and the station scientist had a higher level of agreement on farming-philosophy and practice.

Early in the project, the interaction between farmers and the station scientist could be described as hierarchical. The first farmer/scientist focus session exemplified this traditional model of communication. The meeting consisted of the farmers listening to the scientist "experts." The first evaluation site visit confirmed the presence of this paradigm- The scientist declared his willingness to assist in on-farm research but expressed skepticism about farmer ability to conduct research that would produce valid and reliable results. Likewise, the farmers were supportive of the project but were fairly insistent on remaining independent in the research design and data interpretation. There was a definite gap in expectations on the research methodology.

There seemed to be an attitude of mutual respect between the campus-based scientists and the station scientist. It should be noted that the scientists from both participating stations appeared to have little communication between them. They were aware of the work being done on either station but worked independently of each other. The attitudes of all participants were well known to the project director providing an excellent opportunity to explore the hypotheses stated tn the SARE project-proposal.

Interviews and site visits conducted near the end of the project have provided the following information on the effectiveness of this project in building farmer/scientist relationships.

What were the major benefits of this project?

• This project allowed the station researchers to express interest in a research topic that was not delegated from the campus faculty. The station scientists took a risk in participating in this project without the direct support of their departmental superior$.
• Farmers are more aware of the challenges faced by the station scientists and the need to be supportive of their local research station,
• Some positive cooperative work occurred between the farmers and the station scientist, However, the farmers still feel that the station scientist is doubtful of on-farm trials. The station scientist remains unconvinced that farmers understand the research process.
• The project has definitely facilitated communication between farmers and station scientists. The invisible barrier that seemed to exist prior to the project has been broken. The station scientists were "forced to listen."
• Farmers gained a great deal of information that they are applying on their own farms. However, it is not clear that the on-farm data and the replicated trials on station are being integrated into a holistic picture,
• The involvement of farmers in the project has kept it focused on farmer interests and needs.

Are there failures or aspects of the project in which you are disappointed?

• The farmers still express frustration at the research standards that they feel are unrealistic and unhelpful in their quest for information. They feel that their "experiential data" is not used as a tool for comparison or to help raise new research questions. They also felt that the station researchers in this project incorporated too many variables making the results too complex and less useful to farmers. "Data collection was overwhelming."
• The station scientists remain unconvinced that on-farm data is "scientific" and can be trusted.
• The project demonstrated the extent to which station scientists are isolated--not only from farmers and from the campus-based community.

There is the feeling on the part of both the farmers and the scientist that the campus scientists have quickly moved on to other research topics leaving the station and the farmers on their own without support or assistance in continuing the learning process initiated through this project.

There was frustration expressed at the lack of interest and cooperation among farmer participants. This was not a surprising attitude from the scientist, However, the farmers also expressed some frustration at the difficulty in getting farmers to agree on the "rules" and then follow them. One possible reason for this problem was that only a few farmers did the planning and as participants were recruited more differences began to emerge.

What would YOU do differently if you could start over again?

• The major theme expressed in response to this question was the need for more time.
• Farmers expressed a need for more lead-time to successfully implement a project of this type. In their opinion, this would allow better opportunities to select plots on farms that would be used throughout the project leading to more consistent results, This would also allow farmers to be more involved in the planning, creating more ownership and commitment to the project.
• Scientists expressed a great deal of frustration at the length of the project.
• Everyone expressed misunderstandings about time expectations of other parties. Farmers felt researchers would not devote enough time to complete replicated trials. Station scientists felt farmers would not use their services because they could not produce results fast enough, Campus scientists believe farmer questions take longer to answer then questions generated by researchers.
• Campus based scientists felt that there should have been more farmer/scientist focus sessions and that the sessions should have been longer to aid in the communication and trust building.

Who is using the data?

• Farmers are learning from observing and network with each other~ Station date has not been that useful.
• Station scientists have produced volumes of data but it has not been presented in a format that makes it useful to farmers.
• Campus-based scientists gained valuable information and developed relationships with farmers for the future but have moved on to other funded projects. They do not feel that they will be used as a resource in the future.

This project has opened doors for communication and cooperation among farmers and station scientists. All parties fell that participation has been a positive experience. However, all parties agree that the project length has been too abbreviated to produce the desired results.

The project has planted the seeds for changing the research paradigm but at this point, attitudes have not changed, In fact, as the frustration over lack of time to adequately complete the research during the funding cycle has built, expressions of doubt have become more numerous. All participants understand and expressed the need for continuation of this process. However, all participants placed the responsibility for continuation on another individual or group. This clearly raises the questions of incentives for participation in a change process and the critical role of a facilitator such as the Kansas Rural Center (KRC).

Funding for participation is not an adequate incentive. The funding may have initially provided a catalyst for both farmers and scientists, but the complexities of the project soon made it apparent that no one could participate based on this incentive. The leadership of the project director brought all players to the table and kept the project moving, even in spite of crop failures during year one that produced disappointing results in the data. As the project has come to a close, farmers and scientists have described the role of the Kansas Rural Center as pivotal. It is clear that KRC remains an important linking mechanism among all the participants.

The role of the KRC in encouraging participation has been critical. The farmers place a great deal of trust in the project director and participated in large part based on that trust. The campus-based scientists who participated were also motivated partly out of trust but also out of their philosophy and strong support for the sustainable agriculture movement. The participation of the station scientists was due in part to their interest in the research topic but also out of concern for the previously strained relationship with the KRC and its farmer constituents and the recognition of the importance of local farmers to the continued viability of the stations.

The success of this project is most clearly demonstrated by the appreciation and learning expressed by the farmers. All farmers gained information that they have put to use as part of their individual farming practices. They have also strengthened their networks and cooperative learning opportunities. In addition, they have gained some practical on-farm research skills. In several cases, new relationships, although tentative, have been established with station scientists. Hopefully, these relationships will be maintained and strengthened through the identification of common interests that are mutually beneficial. This project has helped both the scientists and the farmers to understand the challenges, constraints and rewards that they face. This new understanding will help to nurture continued relationships in the future.

Additional evaluative comments by the project coordinator:
An interaction process that helped stimulate interaction was a "show and tell" activity where everyone brought samples of their own cover crops to a few meetings. This allowed the more quiet individuals to speak about their observations with cover crop management. It also allowed for a more friendly, joking environment.

The relationships improved with time. Both station researchers extended the research beyond what was supported by SARE funding. One researcher collected data on a neighboring farmer on the use of cover crops in livestock grazing - something not covered in the project but a priority interest of the cooperating farmer. As a demonstration of the success of this partnership, one Heartland Cluster is providing $3000 of their own money for continued hairy vetch research at the Hesston KSU station over the next two years. Another collaborating researcher is committing a graduate student to study soil quality benefits of legumes in long term rotations. Again this is beyond the scope of this project. Most collaborating KSU researchers voluntarily attended separate farmer cluster meetings out of personal interest. All these outcomes indicate a growing partnership between farmers and researchers.

Decision making on what data should be taken where was very difficult. There was some disagreement about what was "good" research. It took some time to be realistic in the data-collection process. Farmers remained hesitant to committing to placing in controls and assisting with data collection even with compensation. At the end of the project, farmers were unwilling to volunteer to continue using controls in their fields for future farmer trial research. However, the one cluster decided upon their own internal farm demonstrations that they cost share with their own cluster money they would require a control check to enlist better monitoring of treatment effectiveness.

An unresolved issue is what data is best collected on farms and stations. In this project the energy invested in organizing and collecting farm data collection was significant. This is a barrier to future complementary research projects. Farmers gained an appreciation for the value of station research that can more tightly control variables and conduct more in depth research. Researchers learned to appreciate the value of farmer input into research priorities.

Research conclusions:

Adoption of cover crops within cropping systems in south-central Kansas remains limited to the Heartland clusters. The success of these two cover crops has been marginal for the reasons identified in the trial results. Establishment and weed control of the cover crop has to be improved significantly for wider adoption. Hence, there is a commitment to continued research both on station and on-farm to work out the management barriers. There remains an even more important consideration on impacts on sorghum yields and ultimately on economic profitability. An emerging research and management consideration is grazing cover crops within a cropping system. The theory is that livestock can better optimize the economic benefits of the cover crop by grazing in a "slump" time of the year when feeding costs are high and grazing reduces the soil moisture pull in spring. Cover crop termination is also easier.
Another management approach is the use of cover crops in a no till system. Cover crops would provide a living winter cover, contribute nitrogen and organic matter. An additional benefit is drying the soil during wet springs. Management considerations are again establishment and weed control within the cover crop. A new concern is phytotoxic damage to cover crops in a no till system in a mild winter last like year.

Concerning the economic analysis, milo yields after the cover crops were generally less than the fallowed fields that had were fully fertilized. Two years of data is too brief a time to make any definitive statements about these trials. More years of data should be taken. And, based on the gaps that these two years of data leave, some possible areas of expanding the scope of this research for the use of cover crops at a farm level would be to:
• monitor grazing animal weight gains for grazed cover crop fields
• monitor moisture availability for the milo crop on grazed vs. non-grazed cover crops
• monitor subsequent year benefit (after the milo) from such soil building cover crops.

Economic Analysis

Over a two year period, 1996-97 and 1997-98, a number of farmers (12 in 96-97 and 10 in 97-98) kept records of their field operations on their on-farm trials of hairy vetch and Austrian winter pea as a cover crop in a wheat-milo sequence in comparison to the conventional practice of simply letting the land lay fallow between the crops. They kept records of operations across their fields, inputs used, time spent, and yield response. No statistics were run, but observing the data, the following summary comments can be made:

1. Over the two years, in only one case did the use of cover crops take less time for the operations (89 vs 95 minutes pre acre). Generally (n=14) with cover crops, more time was required compared to the fallow plots (76 vs 60 minutes per acre). This general increase in time requirement can be accounted for by the additional operations of drilling the cover crop and then later killing it in preparation for planting milo.

2. Except for two farmers each year, variable cost per bushel of milo produced was higher for the cover crop plots in comparison to the fallow plots ($1.33 vs $1.12). The variable costs were calculated for all field operations and inputs after the wheat harvest through the milo harvest in the next year. Actual variable cost for cover crops vs fallowed plots (n=22) were quite similar ($104.45 vs 106.04). The extra expenses of putting in the cover crops and killing it were generally balanced out by increased fertilizer application to the fallow plots. The fact that most cover crop plots had lower average yields compared to fallow plots (82.2 vs 94.5 bushels) accounts for the higher variable cost per bushel of yield for the cover crop plots.

3. The one farmer in this group who uses no-till practices gave much less time to field operations (only applying herbicides, in addition to the planting, fertilizer and harvest requirements) than the remainder (30 vs 74 minutes), who used a variety of mechanical operations (disk, spring-tooth, chisel, and/or field cultivator, in addition to possible use of herbicides) for field preparations and weed control.

The variable costs for the no-till plots were among the highest due to a much higher herbicide and application cost ($70.90 vs $21.54) than the average of those using conventional tillage with herbicides. While for no till there were no tillage charges, conventional tillage charges averaged $33.60 for the cover crop and $30.32 for fallow fields (n=20).

4. Separate from the above data, additional to the ungrazed vetch plot, in three locations there were also grazed hairy vetch plots. Two of the three locations showed a slight (2 bushel) increase in the milo yield on the grazed vs ungrazed hairy vetch plots, the other had a lower yield by 8 bushels. The income (weight gain) and expenses (time and labor with fencing possibly) associated with these grazing enterprises were not included in data. Farmers valued the grazing benefit realized from the hairy vetch.

Farmer Adoption

This project grew out of 33 meetings with farmers with half of those meetings including KSU Extension and researchers. The farmer field data collection included at least nine visits to farmer trials often with informal conversations with farmer participants. Despite some of the poor field establishments, difficult weather, and conflicting yield data, cooperating farmers are continuing to experiment with cover crops in a wheat/sorghum rotation. Because of the lingering management challenges, the practice of cover cropping in this area of Kansas is still experimental.

Involvement of Other Audiences

Station cover crop trials were part of the regular station field days to acquaint farmers about this research. Researchers and farmers contributed to a panel discussion and two farm visits to explain this collaborative research during a Chapter 3 sustainable agriculture training for Extension and NRCS personnel. Researchers and farmers shared their results and observations at a state-wide Sustainable Agriculture Roundup. Collaborative researchers are preparing a scientific journal entry summarizing the project results. Project coordinator will summarize this project in an upcoming Rural Papers newsletter.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Station cover crop trials were part of the regular station field days to acquaint farmers about this research. Station research summaries have been presented in KSU experiment station publications. Researchers and farmers contributed to a panel discussion and two farm visits to explain this collaborative research during a Chapter 3 sustainable agriculture training for Extension and NRCS personnel. Researchers and farmers shared their results and observations at a state-wide Sustainable Agriculture Roundup. Collaborative researchers are preparing a scientific journal entry summarizing the project results. Project coordinator will write up a summary of this project for the KRC's newsletter, Rural Papers.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

It is anticipated that cover crops will be more widely used if they are integrated with livestock grazing management. Future research should be devoted to an integration of grazing and green manure cover crops and establishment management. Future research needs include:
• investigate cover crop establishment and weed control strategies
• investigate cover crops within a minimum and no till management systems
• investigate also other legumes such as sweet clover and red clover
• investigate grazing animal weight gains for grazed cover crop fields
• investigate moisture availability for the milo crop on grazed vs non-grazed cover crops
• investigate long-term rotation benefits from soil building cover crops.

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.