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Conservation tips that could improve your bottom line

cover crops in field
CHANCE TO PLANT MIX: Following silage or wheat, you can plant a wider mix of cover crops, including ones that do best planted early.
If you irrigate or harvest silage, these tips might benefit you.

Do you farm land with soils that benefit from having an irrigation system? Would you like to improve the efficiency of your irrigation system, reducing input costs but still getting the needed benefits from your investment in irrigation? Don Donovan would like you to consider using cover crops in your cropping system. He is a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Cover crops will increase soil organic matter along with improving soil aggregation, which leads to improved water infiltration and water-holding capacity. Better infiltration and improved water-holding capacity will lead to the need for less frequent irrigation passes, more efficient use of applied water, and therefore, fewer input costs. This in turn, will lead to increased profits, Donovan believes.

Would you be interested in taking the next step by using technology to improve the efficiency of your irrigation system? Farmers in southwest Indiana who irrigate are taking that next step by installing soil moisture probes in their fields with irrigation systems. These probes, installed for use during the growing season, provide real-time soil moisture data at different levels in the rooting zone.

These data will allow you to make better decisions on when to start irrigating, how to irrigate through the most sensitive crop stages of pollination and early grain fill, as well as when you can stop irrigating. More efficient application and use of water will lead to reduced inputs for irrigation, leading to more profit from your crop. Are you looking to improve your irrigation bottom line? Consider installing soil moisture probes for the 2017 irrigation season.

Premier Co-op in south-central Indiana is actually leasing probe equipment for 2017. Inquire at your local Premier outlet about the details of this program.

Cover up silage ground
Silage harvest leaves little residue on the soil, which can lead to soil erosion and a reduction in organic matter. Tony Bailey, an NRCS soils agronomist, says these factors can contribute to less productive soils in the future, and the potential for nutrient loss.

Earlier harvest of silage compared to grain allows for a larger window to get cover crops planted. The earlier planting window also allows for more and different cover crop species to be used. These cover crops are your ticket to counteract the concerns of erosion, runoff and nutrient loss that can be associated with silage, Bailey says.

Planting cover crops after silage harvest is especially pertinent if manure applications are also planned. The cover crops not only protect the soil and reduce runoff, but also help hold those nutrients from the manure for your next commodity crop. Improving the nutrient use efficiency from manure applications also reduces the amount of nutrients lost to the environment. And if additional greenchop is needed the following spring, there is also potential to harvest the cover crop — select your cover crop species accordingly. Planting a cover crop along with proper manure application allows you to grow a low-residue crop like silage and still provide a healthy soil environment.

Some innovative no-tillers use situations like these to plant cocktail mixes of cover crops. It’s ideal, assuming you can plant the cover crop mix soon after silage harvest, since several species in such a mix do better when planted in late summer.

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