Evaluating Winter Cover Crops for the Environment and for Profit
With the high prices for fuel and nitrogen fertilizer, farmers are looking for ways to save money on fertilizer and reduce tillage. For livestock producers, the main issue is capturing and absorbing manure nutrients after crops have been harvested and recycling those nutrients for the following crop. The majority of the manure applied in the fall to bare soils is lost by spring. Winter cover crops can temporarily immobilize nutrients, especially N, and reduce soil erosion during the winter. Most of leaching occurs during the fall and early spring months when the soil is fallow. Vegetative covers provide a 55 to 85% reduction in nitrogen losses.
Five dairy farms planted cover crops in 2006 after corn silage. Annual ryegrass, cereal rye, and oilseed radish (only one farm) were the covers. Dairy manure was applied at 0; 5,000; and 10,000 gallons per acre. Soil tests were collected in September, December, April, May, June (2x), July (2x), and August to evaluate nitrogen and phosphorous movement. Some additional testing was taken by Ohio State University Extension. Tissue tests were collected on the cover crops in December and April and on corn in July. Due to wet weather in the fall, two plots were planted the first week of October while the other plots were planted in mid to late September. All plots were killed from April 1-15th , 2007 with herbicides (Roundup and Basis or Roundup and Atrazine). Dry weather and drought conditions hurt corn stands in late May, June, and July 2007. The crops will be harvested for yield in October-November 2007. OSU Extension researchers and educators (James Hoorman) is collecting and analyzing the data.
Grant funds were used for traveling to plots to take soil samples and tissue tests, for PSNT tests, manure application, and outreach activities. Due to drought like conditions in Ohio, many farmers are interested in growing cover crops in the fall of 2008 for forage crops. Over 108 dairy farmers have attended two meetings and field days on cover crops with partial information presented and gathered from these plots. At least 1100 acres of additional cover crops are being planted in Ohio in one county due to information gathered from these plots.
Growing cover crops in Ohio is highly dependant upon the weather, timely management, and selecting good varieties. In 2006, crops planted in September survived the winter weather much better than cover crops planted in October. Good seed to soil contact was critical to good establishment. Adequate rainfall (at least 1 inch) at seeding time increased cover crop growth. Drilling the seed produced much better results than broadcast seed. Liquid manure applied immediately at seeding allowed the cover crops to grow more vigorously than manure applied later in the season. Due to a wet fall, some manure was not applied until late November. Cover crops that had manure applied in late-November grew 6-12 inches in several weeks after manure application, showing that manure nutrients (N&P) were soluble and available to the plant. Warm weather with heavy rains late December and early January followed by extremely cold conditions hurt cover crop stands. OSU Extension had several cover crop variety trials that will help producers select cover crop seed that will survive Ohio’s winter weather. Farmers needed to apply herbicides early in the spring to avoid the soil from drying out. Where cover crops were killed later, excessive soil moisture was lost and hurt corn stands in May, June and July with droughty conditions. Corn yields will be harvested in October-November. One farmer harvested the cover crop for forage and got 1.5 tons of Annual ryegrass and 4 tons of cereal rye haylage in May and then planted the field to soybeans. Several farmers are interested in trying this system due to a lack of forage and low hay supplies in Ohio. A late frost in April killed many Alfalfa and wheat fields and the drought reduced hay production to less than 50% of normal. For best haylage production, manure application applied at seeding were more successful
WORK PLAN 2007 and 2008.
Approximately 25 farmers are interested in planting cover crops on 1100 acres next year. Five farmers will be selected to put out cover crop plots. At least 2 or 3 farmers will be replaced this next year due to time constraints and land availability. Several new farmers are interested in participating. Cover crop seed is being purchased and plans are to continue with the plots next year using the same design as outlined in the grant proposal.
Three field days/meetings were held with a total attendance of 108 dairy farmers and participants. A meeting in the St. Mary’s Watershed attracted over 70 farmers with 25 farmers agreeing to plant about 1100 new acres of cover crops. One poultry producer/grain farmer planted 800 acres last year and plans to plant another 800 acres of cover crops this year. Over 2,000 acres of cover crops should be planted in this area in 2007. A meeting in Bowling Green Ohio attracted 26 dairy and grain farmers with at least 500 acres planning to be planted to cover crops. One dairy planted 800 acres of cover crops last year for forages and used the cover crops to absorb dairy manure. At least 1300 acres of cover crops should be planted from this meeting. The Bryan, Ohio meeting attracted 12 dairy and grain, and beef producers. At least 700 acres of cover crops will be planted in this area. Approximately 4,000 acres of cover crops will be planted in 2007-2008 fall and winter season from producers who attended these meetings.
Information from these plots will be shared at the following meetings in the fall of 2007 and 2008 by OSU Extension Personnel [estimated attendance is listed in parentheses.]: Pennsylvania No-till Conference (125); Pennsylvania Cover Crop conference (150); Conservation Tillage and Technology meeting (700); Ada, Ohio; National No-till Conference, (700), Cincinnati, Ohio; Indiana No-till Conference (200); National Soil Science meetings, (150) New Orleans, Louisiana; and North Central Region Cover Crops Team meetings (50).