Evaluating the Use of Forage Radish to Enhance Winter Rye Cover Crop Performance
As farmers in the northeast are faced with an ever mounting pressure (and desire) to protect water quality, increase soil health, and maintain productive and sustainable farms; they are increasingly turning to cover crops as a way to accomplish these goals. By far the most common cover crop utilized by dairy and forage crop farmers in Vermont is winter rye seeded after corn silage. With our short growing seasons, winter rye has become a dependable cover crop to provide good erosion control and nutrient cycling. However, as more producers become aware of alternative cover crop species and mixtures of species, they are asking to know more about their choices and what the potential benefits may be to planting these alternative crops. This study is evaluating whether the addition of forage radish to a winter rye cover crop could augment and enhance the performance over winter rye by itself. In addition, it will quantify the economic impacts of this combination and basic agronomic recommendations for seeding rates and establishment methods.
This field experiment will occur on two farms over the course of two seasons. Plots will be no-till drilled or broadcast after timely corn silage harvest and then receive one application of liquid dairy manure immediately after planting. Measurements will occur the fall after planting and the subsequent spring. Results will be shared with farmers and ag service providers in Vermont and around the northeast. There is a large Extension/outreach component to this project. This project is part of a larger USDA-NIFA project.
Objective 1: Determine the effects of combining forage radish with winter rye cover crops and evaluate if the addition of forage radish has impacts on: overall performance of the cover crop, improved nutrient uptake and enhanced ecosystem services.
Progress to date: Baseline soil tests were completed, plots were planted and received manure applications, baseline moisture and compaction measurements were collected, population counts were done on two sampling dates, percent cover measurements were collected, above ground biomass samples and root/shoot biomass samples were collected. All plots established successfully. Forage samples will be analyzed for nutrient (N, P, K) content this winter.
Objective 2: Establish the proper seeding rates and planting methods for a forage radish/winter rye cover crop in a corn silage system with manure.
Progress to date: Plots were seeded at three different rates of winter rye with and without forage radish – planted with a no-till grain drill or broadcast on the surface. Once data collection is complete, we will be able to utilize this to make sound agronomic recommendations for cover crop establishment based on this information.
Objective 3: Quantify the economic impact of different cover crop treatments, both seeding rates/composition and application methods.
Progress to date: seed cost data and establishment costs are being monitored. Once biomoass and nutrient uptake data is processed, we will compare the economic ramifications of those results in conjunction with costs of cover crop establishment for each treatment.
Objective 4: Promote and increase the use of cover crops and share project findings through direct farmer outreach with field days, newsletter articles, social media, Extension fact sheets and presentations. Provide research-based data to support of modify existing cover cropping specifications being used by technical service providers and cost share funding agencies.
Progress to date: A farmer field day was held at the host farm and highlighted both the plots in this experiment and the plots in a second (NRCS-CIG) cover crop demonstration project. Twenty-five people attended the field day and saw first-hand the initial fall results of the different treatments. A field day handout is attached. Preliminary results were also shared during a presentation at a farmer meeting focused on soil health hosted by UNH Extension in Plymouth, NH.
The grant contract was awarded in August 2014. Work commenced on the project in September 2014. Vermont experienced a late corn harvest this year. The original experiment design was to have all the cover crops planted the first week of September (after an early harvest for our area). The cool summer weather and lack of growing degree days delayed harvest by roughly two weeks. In the end, all plots were planted on September 19th.
Also due to the delayed corn harvest, my original plan to have plots hosted on two farms was impossible. The field I had identified on the second farm (Conant’s Riverside Farm in Richmond, VT) did not get harvested until October, almost a month later than planned. As an alternative, I selected a second field on the first farm (Clifford Farm in Starksboro, VT), but selected a field with a much different soil type and elevation than the first. While not ideal, it did enable all plots to get planted and receive manure in a timely fashion and made field data collection much more efficient. I will plant at both farms next season. Once planting occurred, field operations progressed as planned.
19-Sept: All plots planted at Clifford Farm in Starksboro, VT
23-Sept: Liquid dairy manure spread on all plots, manure samples collected
1-Oct: Collected: Populations, percent soil moisture, compaction, pictures
17-Oct: Collected: air temperature, population, percnet cover, height, pictures
29-Oct: Collected forage samples on all plots
30-Oct: Collected root/shoot samples
7-Nov: Hosted a Field Day at Clifford Farm
November: processed forage samples
4-Dec: Removed temperature data loggers from field, collected air temperature data from loggers
- manure calibration_west
- manure calibration_east
- Seedling Emergence
- Root and Shoot Samples in Lab
- Laying out plots at Clifford Farm
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
As this project is just beginning, it is hard to measure impacts quite yet. However, we have already seen a positive response to the project from farmers and agricultural service providers. One of the fields is on a state highway, and the host farmer reports getting lots of people stopping and either looking at the field plots and/or asking him questions. A prominent field sign was placed along the highway, and all of the little orange flags are capturing a lot of attention. This project has created an opportunity for the host farmer, Eric Clifford, to share the story of cover cropping with his neighboring farmers and the public. The field day hosted at the field site was well attended despite miserable weather that afternoon – another testament to the interest in this topic. While at the site collecting data, I had several conversations with farmers who stopped by to see what was going on. One in particular comes to mind, when I was explaining the difference in seeding methods between plots and the farmer commented on how it really drove home to him the importance of ‘planting’ his cover crop seeds (with a drill or otherwise) as opposed to only broadcasting seeds on the soil surface. In all, I would say that farmers in Vermont are happy to see research being done on topics they are interested right in their own back yards on real farm fields.
6147 VT Route 116
Starksboro, VT 05487
Office Phone: 8024343810
Vorsteveld Family Farm
Panton, VT 05491