Cover crop progress

Thursday, December 17, 2015

We planted a rye-and-radishes cover crop at the Lett and Watjen farms last fall, before harvesting the soybeans there.  We had the seed flown on with an airplane.  The dry weather of October was great for harvesting, but it delayed the establishment of the cover crops.  Even so, today the cover crops look pretty good… when you consider this is reclaimed strip mine ground.  Mother Nature is slowly recapturing the productivity of the soil in these 2 locations, and we hope we are accentuating the progress. It has been almost 40 years since the reclamation process started at Lett and Watjen.  In those early years, we could only attempt to produce wheat and soybeans… the soil did not have enough water-holding capacity to sustain a corn crop through the summer.  But we have been seeing improvements over time… slight in the early years, and accelerating improvement in recent years.  We had a pretty successful corn crop there in 2014.   In 2013, we enrolled these two adjoining farms in FSA’s EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Program).  Over the three years of the program involvement, we have constructed some WASCoBs, (see the post for June 3, 2014) and utilized cover crops, all with a modest incentive payment from FSA.  This is one of the ways we are learning about the value of cover crops, and learning how to utilize this management method to enhance productivity and protection of that precious resource–the soil.

I checked on the status of the cover crop at Lett and Watjen this morning.

A tillage radish still growing in mid-December

A tillage radish still growing in mid-December

The radishes will eventually be killed off by the winter freeze.  The radishes’ decaying deep taproot system will add to the permeability of the soil, enhancing the soil structure and tilth.  The rye will continue its growth through the winter.   This mat of rye on the surface along with its web of underground roots protect the soil from water erosion. It will be stopped in the early spring with a burndown herbicide application of glyphosate (Roundup).  After that, the mulch-like rye residue will continue such soil erosion protection well into the summer.



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