No-tilling grazing Brassicas into existing pastures: Remediation of sward and soil health for pastures

2014 Annual Report for ONE14-197

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,470.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
A.Fay Benson
Cornell Co-op Extension

No-tilling grazing Brassicas into existing pastures: Remediation of sward and soil health for pastures


This project seeks to address simultaneously two components of grazing: First the decline in nutrient density of the grazing sward from September to the end of the grazing season caused by the change in fiber content and secondary plant metabolites of grasses. Secondly, is soil health of the pastures. As climate change brings wider swings in rain and drought, pasture soils receive accumulated damage that isn’t often seen until it is irreversible. To achieve these two goals the project’s method will be to no-till Daikon radish seed into the grazing sward to be available in the latter part of the grazing season. The increased nutrient density will aid farmers who want to extend their grazing season and also to have a sward that is higher in energy and capable of aiding in “finishing” livestock before the winter. To address soil compaction the project will use the Daikon Radish also called “Bio Drills”. These brassicas have been shown to break through hard pans and improve soil health indicators such as: water retention, mineral availability, and nutrient cycling. We are working with 4 farms from across New York State to do this project. There are two benefits of working with farms at large distances: There will be different weather and soil characteristics which will impact the trials so that in one year the same trial can be observed under different conditions. The other benefit is that each farm can host a pasture walk which will expand the project’s outreach.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Progress in 2014
  1. Plant on farm trials at 3 locations to test improved methods of controlling existing sward which will allow radish and clover mix to compete and thrive in grazing sward.

[Photos #1-5 are below Accomplishments/Milestones section]
The project established (3) on-farm trials this past year. The first trial was planted at Morrisville State College in May. This was an earlier planting date than was written into the proposal. It was planted in time to view the results at New York’s “Grasstravaganza” in July. This was a 2 & 1/2 day event which focused on grazing and soil health, mirroring the subject matter of the project. The event was sponsored by the NY Grazinglands Coalition and NRCS. Because this SARE project focused on grazing and soil health, it was an excellent opportunity to introduce farmers and grazing educators to the concept of using radishes to relieve soil compaction. There were 150 in attendance at “Grasstravaganza,” all of whom came to the field site to see the trial. The Morrisville site had visible results which can be seen in attached photo #1. It was educational to see the results of planting in spring, especially that the plants went to seed before a large tuber could be grown. The radishes were planted by an Atchison No-Til Drill; immediately after planting, a 4-inch band of Roundup was applied to kill the plants closest to the radishes.  

The second site was planted on July 10 in St Lawrence County. The Zufall site is an organic dairy that only feeds forage. A 4.5-acre trial area was planted by a single pass of a Great Plains No-Til Drill which was equipped with a spray unit that banded a 4-inch spray of 10% Acetic Acid (See Photo #2). The acid was sprayed on the 4-inch row at 20 gallons/acre. In addition to the acid, salt was added at the rate of 2 lbs. per acre to increase the burning effect, and dish soap was added at 4 oz./acre as a surfactant.

The spray mixture was designed to improve the burn/killing of the existing sward in the 4-inch band within the 7-inch row. Previous trials had resulted in the dying-off of the brassicas from a presumed shading of the plants by the pasture sward growing back. The effect of the spray mixture could be seen in less than 30 minutes. Refer to photo #3 to see the radish and clovers establishing in the rows. Less than two weeks after the photo was taken, the radishes and clovers were yellowing and eventually the pasture sward recovered and covered the radishes. The yellowing of the radishes was thought to be the result of a higher-than-normal rainfall that occurred during the month after the planting and the compaction of the pasture which can be seen in Photo #4, showing the healthy plants and raised area under the fence line where cows could not compact the soil. More information on this condition was revealed at the third trial site.

 The third trial site was at Peggy Clarke’s conventional dairy in Chemung County. Plots were established for both the Round Up and acetic acid spray treatments on 4.2 acres of one of her paddocks. The results mirrored the other trials, with the roundup sites resulting in establishment of the radish and the acetic acid allowing the radishes to reach seedling stage but then yellowing and eventually dying. A photo of the yellowing plants was sent to a brassica specialist that diagnosed the problem not of any disease but rather starvation. The specialist suggested that a small amount of nitrogen needed to be placed with the radish seed at planting, not necessarily to feed the radish but to activate the biology in the soil which would in turn feed the radishes. This diagnosis was backed up by a site found in the pasture where a small ring of healthy radishes were found around a pile of clippings remaining after the paddock was clipped prior to drilling (See Photo #5). This information will be used in next year’s plantings to see if a healthy crop of radishes can be established by the no-till method.


2. Hold farm tours to show results.
uly 17th – 19th Grasstravaganza:

There were 150 in attendance at “Grasstravaganza,” all of whom came to the field site to see the radish trial. The interaction while looking at the trial and then in conversations during the event provided many opportunities for farmers and educators to learn more about using radishes/brassicas in pastures.


Dec 4th E-Organic Webinar “ No-tiling Brassicas into Pastures”

Of the 150 who enrolled, 90 (60%) people participated in the webinar.

40% participants were from the Northeast U.S.

25% were from the Midwest U.S.

10% were from the South U.S.

25% were from the West U.S.

We also had 5 international participants (2 from Canada, 1 from Denmark, 1 from Uganda, and 1 from the UK)


Of those who participated:

40% were farmers

17% were NRCS or other USDA personnel

13% were Extension faculty/staff or other university researchers/educators

30% were other (including personnel from industry; certification/inspectors; non-profits; consultants; etc.)


The quick polls revealed that:

2% had much experience; 17% had some experience; 9% had little experience; and 72% had no experience using brassicas in pastures (n=47).

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes


Peggi Clarke
856 Lowman Rd
Lowman, NY 14861
Office Phone: 6077387909
Bob Zufall

21 Campbell Rd
Lisbon, NY 13658
Office Phone: 3158543857