- Agronomic: corn, soybeans
- Crop Production: cover crops, ridge tillage, tissue analysis, conservation tillage
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
- Soil Management: soil analysis, soil microbiology, organic matter, soil quality/health
Soil erosion, infiltration, drainage, and tillage are popular topics within the agricultural community. Cover crops have been shown to reduce sediment, nutrients, and pesticide movement to surface waters. Cover crops protect agricultural fields from losing valuable top soil from erosion. The root systems break up compaction to allow better water infiltration. Nitrogen is drawn from deep below the surface back to the root zone for the next year’s crop. Research is being done on cover crop establishment in many states across the Corn Belt. Local farmers have expressed interest in cover crops, but are hesitant to try them. There is a need for information about the soil health, infiltration, and potential yield benefits of cover crops. While there are some local farmers that have tried cover crop mixes to improve infiltration and soil structure, there is no side-by-side comparison data. This grant would provide the opportunity to gather soil health, infiltration, and yield data. That data would be shared with local farmers to promote the use of cover crops.
This project will include two 35-acre fields. One field will have cover crops planted and one will not. Both fields have the same cropping history of corn and soybeans; along with ridge till management practices. For this grant, I intend to seed a cover crop mix of Annual Rye, Tillage Radish, and Winter Wheat. This mix has been chosen to prevent soil erosion and improve infiltration. I also wanted to have a mix that would winter kill to avoid having to terminate the cover crop in the spring.
From each 35-acre field, soil samples will be collected. In addition to these samples, a control sample will be taken in a grassed buffer area. This sample will provide a standard for “good” soil condition compared to the crop fields. The Haney Soil Test will be done on these samples to determine micro community activities in the soil.
Along with the Haney Soil Test, an infiltration test will be completed in the fall and spring of 2016 and 2017. An infiltration rate (velocity at which water enters the soil) will be recorded in inches per hour. Infiltration is measured by placing a six-inch (height) by eight-inch (diameter) ring in the soil three inches deep, then adding sixteen ounces of water to the inside of the ring. The amount of time it takes for each inch of water to infiltrate the soil is recorded. This will give a farmers an idea of how much infiltration can be increased on their fields by using cover crops.
Yield data will be collected on the harvested crops. A simple per acre economic analysis of the different treatments will be done. Information will include cover crop seed, fertilizer, and crop seed costs, as well as crop yield and value, gross income, and net income.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Measure the benefits of cover crops focusing on increasing soil health and infiltration by using the Haney Soil Test and Infiltration Test.
- Gather economic data in southwest Minnesota so that local farmers may have sufficient information before they incorporate cover crops on their farms.
- Share project results through a field day and a report mailed to local farmers.