Abbey Wick, NDSU Extension Soil Health Specialist
In response to the anticipated prevented planting in various parts of North Dakota, we are planning a series of Café Talks on cover crops in prevented planting situations. These will be an excellent opportunity to meet with North Dakota State University specialists and researchers to run through options and hopefully we can get some insurance representatives there to provide input during the conversation.
With the Extension Service, we often ask ourselves "why do you do what you do?" as a way to get at the core of our programming and to keep us moving forward in a positive way. Getting to the "why" of what you're doing can be difficult and require a little soul-searching. It's one of those questions that you think may be easy to answer, but when you start writing down "what" you do, "how" you do it so that you can get to the "why" you do it, it gets a little more complicated and may take several days to finally get to the answer.
There are a multitude of ways that research generated at universities can be shared with the agricultural community.
Reducing tillage is one approach used to build the benefits of a healthier soil — like reducing erosion and better water management. But, leaving some extra residue on the surface can be daunting in the Red River Valley, where soils are high in clay, can hold a lot of water and be slow to warm up in the spring. Moisture and temperature conditions at planting are probably the primary concern of farmers exploring the idea of reducing tillage. We put a few conservation tillage practices to the test at the Soil Health and Agriculture Research Extension Farm in Mooreton, N.D.
This week's observation is related to yield response to two management practices, tile drainage and no-till. We often hear these two practices being talked about together, for example, "If I install tile drainage, I can start using no-till on high clay, valley soils." I'm not sure I have the answer, but I like the thought process of stacking tools. Let's talk about what the data/research tell us to help guide decisions.
If you've been to a soil health meeting where Lee Briese (Independent Crop Consultant with Centrol Ag) presented you'll hear him make the statement, "fire those acres." I'm going to take a page out of his playbook and share more about what this means. The whole idea behind "fire those acres" relates to recognizing that some acres aren't able to do what you want them to do — their inherent properties don't allow it. So, you need to do something different with those acres. In some cases, it's "firing those acres" from the old way of doing things and coming up with a different plan.
As I continue to get questions and see more interest in soil health building practices, I want to encourage you to come to the Conservation Tillage Conference Dec. 18-19, 2018, in Fargo, N.D., to get more information. Jodi DeJong-Hughes (of the University of Minnesota) and I put on this two-day event to bring farmers, industry and educators together to share ideas on reducing tillage, incorporating cover crops ,and managing weeds, disease and pests. So, this conference is about much more than just reducing tillage!
By mid-September, options for seeding cover crops in the Northern Plains become more limited and in some cases seeding rates need to be bumped up to get a decent stand. My typical cut-off date for most mixes that include broadleaf cover crops like radish, turnip or peas is Aug. 15. By September, I take broadleaf plants out of the mix because I can't justify the cost of the seed for the anticipated limited amount of growth.
How should you choose cover crops? First, determine a goal for using the cover crops. What do you want to do? Once the goal is identified, then it's time to think about the current crop and next crop in rotation. This is where it can get tricky, so I'll run though some ideas for different rotations.
Wheat harvest (and harvest for other short season crops) is full speed ahead. With the early harvest, some of you may be thinking about seeding cover crops. Here I will share information on how to get started and how to avoid mistakes, along with seed selection for seeding or flying on cover crops post-harvest.