Bringing Hayland and CRP into Production Using Cover Crops and No-Till using Forage Soybeans and Other Legumes, What Works Best?

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Jeremy Wilson
Wilson Farm


  • Agronomic: canola, millet, rapeseed, sorghum (milo), soybeans, sunflower


  • Animal Production: winter forage
  • Crop Production: biological inoculants, crop rotation, continuous cropping, cover crops, no-till, nutrient cycling, application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, organic matter, soil physics, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    Approximately 115,673.3 acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) are in contract in my home county of Stutsman, ND. Due to higher commodity prices, CRP land is being converted into cropland at a rapid rate. Within the next three years, 64% of the CRP acres will have contracts expired in Stutsman County. In 2010, a general signup for CRP was available and 2 contracts were offered and accepted, a very minor amount. During conversion of CRP, area producers often assume the best method for conversion is several passes of tillage in order to “break-up” root masses and “smooth” the ground for planting. I feel this method destroys much of the organic matter that has been built over the life of the CRP contract. Also, this method destroys the soil health and structure that has been created during the CRP contract period. My focus is on using no-till methods in this conversion to preserve this soil health and structure created during the CRP contract. The initial problem, which other area farmers and I face with CRP ground, is the lack of nutrient cycling. This problem is very evident in the low nitrogen availability in CRP ground. The process of “revving up” nutrient cycling generally takes at least a year and this process is somewhat slower in no-till systems. This lack of organic nitrogen (and other nutrient) availability in the first year presents a large problem economically for area no-till farmers. One method to encourage this nutrient cycling is planting legumes such as soybeans, which not only work to convert organic matter, but fix nitrogen as well. The largest problem, though, that exists with legumes initially fixing nitrogen, is availability of rhizobium bacteria in the soil. This is especially true for soybeans. In order to “spark” this process for soybeans and provide a solution that works for area farmers both economically and conservation wise, I plan to do the following:
    1) On recently expired CRP ground, I will let the stand grow then make hay by June 30, on two of the plot types I will spread 28 lb/ac. (actual) nitrogen fertilizer.
    2) Let re-growth of the CRP stand occur over three weeks then spray with herbicide, (around July 20).
    3) After a week, seed, in a randomized complete block style (3 replications of each):
       a. one no-till plot to forage soybeans
       b. two other no-till plots with cover crop mixes, which include forage soybeans
       c. two no-till plots to legume cover crop mixes without forage soybeans (different innoculant groups)
       d. one no-till plot will be sprayed and not seeded with any cover crop and not applied with fertilizer
       e. one plot will be no-till farmed and seeded with forage soybeans and applied with fertilizer
       f. one plot will be no-till farmed and applied with fertilizer but no cover crop
    4) The following year, all areas will be seeded with a regular soybean crop and yield will be determined from each plot.

    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.