Adapting Cover Crops to Northern Climate Conventional Cropping Systems

Project Overview

FNC14-974
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $22,471.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Grant Recipient: Mach Farms
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Troy Salzer
Carlton County Extension
Co-Coordinators:
Abe Mach
Mach Farms

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Agronomic: barley, oats, rye
  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing management
  • Crop Production: cover crops, double cropping
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health

    Summary:

    Northeast Minnesota is home to a large beef cow-calf sector, several dairy farms and an increasing amount of cash grain farming. In each of these types of operations, annual cultivation of corn, soybeans, oats and barley is common. Unfortunately, annual cultivation of these crops leads to high rates of nutrient leaching and soil erosion, decreased crop diversity, decreased soil aggregate stability, decreased soil organic matter and reduced soil biology and overall soil health. The utilization of cover crops has been shown in many cases to alleviate these problems. Carlton County Extension office has conducted a variety of cover crop educational research and education efforts. This project has built upon previous efforts by putting cover crop demonstration sites on three farms, in three different adjacent counties in Northeast Minnesota. Three field days have been hosted on-site over the 2 years providing information to a variety of audiences as well as opportunities in the future.  Soil nutrients and soil biology have been monitored through using soil testing, forage yields and expenses have been tracked and summarized. This is the final report for the grant term.

    Introduction:

    The 2014 SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant was a group project which included three cooperating farmers, each from different counties. The farmers include Scott Peterson of St. Louis County; Troy Salzer, University of Minnesota Extension Educator of Carlton County and farmer; and Abe Mach of Pine County.

    Two agricultural problems in northeastern Minnesota were addressed by this project:

    • Though the implementation of cover crops is vastly expanding throughout the United States, northeastern Minnesota has been slow to adopt the practice. This is largely due to farmer skepticism that our cooler climate can accommodate cover crops and lack of education on how to successfully grow them in an economically beneficial fashion.
    • Due to northeastern Minnesota’s relatively short growing season, the cost of winter feeding stored feeds greatly reduces profit margins for cow/calf operators.

    Project objectives:

    The objective of the project was to demonstrate how cover crops can be implemented in northern Minnesota’s climate and agricultural industry.  The strategy by which cover crops was implemented was planting a small grain (oats, barley, or wheat), mechanically harvesting it in early August, and immediately planting a cover crop cocktail consisting of peas, forage turnips, and winter rye. The goal was to produce enough forage in the cover crop to be able to get a late fall grazing. Several objectives were identified and included:

    • Can cover crops be successfully grown in a northern Minnesota climate?
    • Is the quality of the cover crops substantial enough to extend the grazing season for grass finished cattle?
    • Can enough forage be produced to justify the cost of seeding?
    • Can the nutrient retention in the soil be impacted to reduce environmental losses?
    • Does the utilization of cover crops increase soil organic matter?
    • Does growing cover crops impact soil biology (soil health)?

    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.