By Don Donovan
Farmers learn about using cover crops and no-till on their farms when they attend meetings and talk to other farmers, exchanging thoughts and ideas that will provide the knowledge to be successful. Here are 14 take-home points from a recent conference that had an impact on many who attended:
1. New people are attending meetings. The interest in no-till and cover crops is continuing to grow, and new farmers are seeking new ideas. The number of new people attending no-till meetings is up.
2. Keep learning how to make your farm better. One farmer-presenter suggested taking 4% of your acres each year and doing some side-by-side trials; then take 10% of that 4% and try some new crazy concept.
3. One hot, new idea is interseeding cover crops when corn is at the V4 stage. One experienced farmer says he uses small-seeded cover crops species such as white clover or annual ryegrass for best results. Species that can germinate in low-light conditions and survive until harvest work best.
4. Collect as much data as you can on your farms. Do on-farm research and keep extensive records on each field that can be used to develop strategies to improve your economic bottom line.
5. Bringing livestock back to your cover crop system improves soil health. This also opens flexibility in cash crop rotation possibilities.
6. Good data leads to good decisions. This allows a farmer to operate from a position of strength.
7. Get uncomfortable. If you’re not uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you’re not trying hard enough to change.
8. Call it like you see it. A researcher at the meeting stated that “conservation tillage” is an oxymoron.
9. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu! Farmers need to be proactive in moving to a regenerative agriculture system, or they may be targeted as part of the problem.
10. Tillage is the No. 1 enemy in production agriculture. One speaker presented this view because of tillage-induced carbon dioxide loss.
11. Soil compaction for a grazier is a matter of time, not herd density. The secret is to leave plenty of cover crop residue to hold the cattle up as they graze.
12. Try balanced cover crop mixes. One farmer prefers using three grasses, three legumes and three brassicas in a cover crop mix when grazing cover crops.
13. One earthworm makes a difference. A researcher found that one earthworm can create up to 10 pounds of castings per year. Four million pounds of castings can build 1 foot of soil. In a field with healthy soil, researchers have found 549,000 worms — more than enough to build 1 foot of soil in a year.
14. Pay attention to cover crop variety. Varieties aren’t all created equal. If one isn’t successful, there might be another variety that will be.
Donovan is a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He writes on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership.