The Economic Analysis of Cover Crops, Soil Health, the role of Livestock and Impact on Moisture
The project will measure water usage (reduced), soil health indicators and weight gain of cattle in wheat, corn and soybeans that is drilled or interseeded with cocktail, cover crops (CC) v. plots without CC. An economic analysis (partial) will be conducted to determine the impact of CC upon each of these aspects. Most areas were impacted by 45” of historical rains in 2015.
- The weight gain of cattle in CC v. grazing in corn-, soybean- or wheat-stubble will be measured where possible as related to delayed planting, and/or prevented planting and weed problems and crop rotations with excessive rain in 2015.
The plots at each farmers’ site will have treatment steps and control (partial) plots (using CC v. not using CC) where possible as related to delayed planting, and/or prevented planting and weed problems and crop rotations as relates to excessive rain in 2015.
- Basic descriptive statistics will be completed to determine CC, livestock gains and cash crop yields as possible related to excessive rain in 2015.
- Soil testing including water infiltration, soil density and soil organic matter levels will be completed.
- The biomass testing of the CC will be completedas weather allowed.
- The Haney Healthy Soil Tests will be completed on various fields as weather allowed to provide organic and inorganic levels for N-P-K and CC mixtures.
- The PLFA (phospholipid fatty acids) will be completed (as weather dictates).
- An economic analysis sheet (i.e., analyzing crop yields in 2015) will be developed unless negatively impacted by excessive rain in 2015.
A reduced number of accomplishments then originally hoped were met thus the extension and modification of the original grant intent/s however the 45” of rain in 2015 has really impacted the possible results. In a phone conversation with Joan Benjamin, it was determined to meet the limited objectives that were feasible and which could be effectively achieved.
The following four variables impacted the possible accomplishments/milestones and thus the original grant.
First, the late- and wet spring impacted crop rotation thus in turn the viability of various cover crops (i.e., radishes, turnips having time to grow and then be grazed this fall before the early frost). The excessive rains in 2015 impacted late to even prevented planting this year. For example, barley was drilled in the fall but the severe winter killed the majority of the stand and the late spring prevented a planting to spring barley, oats, etc. Consequently, the options including grazing were very limited.
Second, the harvest was late because the weather did not allow crops to appropriately “dry down” in the fields similar to 2014. Even with high-moisture corn, it was difficult to interseed cover crops.
Third, in addition, the excessive rains eliminated herbicide residuals. On one hand this enhanced the ability to use different types of cover crops but the excessive weeds (i.e., water hemp) made it really difficult to interseed and successfully initiate cover crops and fall drilling.
Fourth, harvest generally went to the mid- to late-part of November which prevented drilling in most cases and in turn reduced cover crop options.
It is too early to fairly and accurately discuss the possible impact of the project. The four aspects discussed in the “accomplishments/ milestones” section are impacting the original proposal and intended goals. Many of the goals will not be achieved; modification is occurring but the weather has really impacted the possibilities (as discussed with Joan Benjamin).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Two field days were held this year, respectively, in August and October. The rotations, grazing and cover crop sites were presented, analyzed and discussed. The first site in IA focused on rotational grazing, soil health, prevented planting options, drilling cover crops into post-wheat and discussed collaborative opportunities with the Practical Farmers of Iowa who also presented at the field day.
The second field day that was held at Palmyra and Douglas, NE on Oct. 6 was attended by over 67 producers and agricultural professionals. This day focused on: viewing cover crops and discussing advantages and disadvantages of species; viewing annual/perennial grasses and legumes and grazing paddocks; viewing a soil pit and discussing the soil biology of 3 years of cover crops; viewing and discussing the impact of compost; and discussing the impact of cover crops on weeds and stacked crop rotations.
Each producer has either drilled or interseeded cover crop cocktails into corn and/or soybeans. One continued and interesting aspect is the interplay with the wet year of over 45” of rain and how previous cover crop usage impacted grazing and the soil prior to planting over two springs (2014 and 2015). One site was not planted and three “windows” of grazing occurred because prevented planting was the complimentary option. This enhanced the ability to use “failed barley” and extend grazing possibilities.
The weather and impact on herbicides are impacting cover crop and and spraying “windows” which in turn impacts which cover crops can be used. Specifically, herbicide residuality is much reduced. This helps brassicas but the weed pressure is too much and impacts fall options (i.e., drilling vs. interseeding).
Last, two producers are presenting their initial and complimentary work at regional conferences in IA and KS, respectively, in 2016. Various aspects (where findings are clear) will be integrated into presentations particularly as relates to grazing and rotations.
3018 Maryland Avenue
Bedford, IA 50833
Office Phone: 7126211040
1755 S. 18th Road
Burr, NE 68324
Office Phone: 4022695202