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What I overheard around the soil pit

What I overheard around the soil pit

You never know what you will learn when you get a bunch of farmers and soil scientists together out in the field in a soil pit.

You can’t beat the setting. Nebraska Extension engineer and no-till specialist, Paul Jasa, has just explained the technical details of how to make your planter and machinery work for you in a no-till system. It’s a nice, sunny day north of Stuart, with a cool breeze. You walk out in the middle of a cornfield. Ray Ward, president of Ward Laboratories, is in the soil pit with his trusty shovel. NRCS no-till specialist, Dan Gillespie and Nebraska Extension soil scientist, Charles Shapiro are sitting alongside the pit, adding their commentary. No-till producer, Rick Bieber, stands beside the pit, explaining his own practices on his farm at Trail City, SD. Life is good.

IN THE PIT: Ray Ward says that his shovel is his favorite soil health evaluation tool.

That was the workshop I had the pleasure of attending on Monday at Kurt and Wayne Kaup's farm north of Stuart, courtesy of No-till on the Plains, as one of the Nebraska stops in their annual Whirlwind Expo. If you want all of the details on the meeting, you’ll have to read about them in upcoming articles online and in print at Nebraska Farmer. But I thought I would share with you a few intriguing quotes I overheard while standing around the soil pit.

On soil health.

“My shovel is my most valuable soil health evaluation tool.” Ray Ward

“If the soil is like our skin, then vegetation is like clothing over the skin to protect it." Rick Bieber

On cover crops.

“It is no big deal if the cover crops don’t winterkill. They hold nitrogen and moisture and I want something growing on both sides of January.” Dan Gillespie

“If the corn is at six leaf stage, you want to be seeding cover crops on that field.” Dan Gillespie

COOL IDEA: This packet from Arrow Seed contains a sample cocktail cover crop mixture to test for residual herbicide issues.

“I want at least four cover crop species growing out there. I want warm and cool season grasses and warm and cool season broadleaf plants. So I want to plant a cocktail of at least eight crops, but 12 to 15 is better.” Rick Bieber

On weeds.

"Weeds are just Mother Nature's cover crops." Rick Bieber

On organic matter.

“If you are rotating only corn and soybeans, you won’t gain much on organic matter even in a no-till system. You need a longer and more diverse rotation.” Rick Bieber

Related:  No-till gaining believers one farmer at a time

Cool idea on residual herbicide concerns with cover crops.

From the no-till workshop, I brought home a little ziplock packet containing a mixture of 12 different cover crops seeds, including cool and warm season grasses and broadleaf crops from the SoilBuilder mixture sold through Arrow Seed. The label on the packet says, “Use this seed sample for a field bioassay to determine if there are any chemicals that will inhibit growth” of this cover crop mixture. So basically, you can try it out in the field to see how it grows under your herbicide program. This can be a major concern for no-till producers trying to add cover crops to their system, so I thought that was a simple, easy way to test that particular cocktail mixture.

You can learn more local Nebraska agriculture news by visiting Nebraska Farmer online several times a day. Follow me on Twitter @HuskerHomePlace and Editor, Tyler Harris @tyharris08. Try #NebFarmNow and #HHD15.

Bonus:  Urban and rural come together for a common cause

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