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Serving: IN

Cover crops, manure help maintain land

Tom J. Bechman Jarrod and Amy Burris
PRACTICING CONSERVATION: Jarrod and Amy Burris, Loogootee, Ind., farm rolling fields and lots of reclaimed coal mine land. They take several steps to protect the land they farm.
This couple uses every resource they have to protect and improve their land.

What do you do when your land wouldn’t meet the high-quality description ag economists often give in examples? In fact, it would have to hustle to meet the “average” definition. Part of it is rolling, and a sizable percentage was once strip-mined for coal. It was reclaimed before you began farming it, but it still has unique challenges many other fields don’t face.

If you are Jarrod and Amy Burris, Loogootee, Ind., you roll up your sleeves and get to work. And you use all the resources at your disposal to care for the land as best you can. In their case, that includes manure, cover crops, no-till and conservation practices to maintain the land, prevent soil erosion and improve soil health when possible.

Here is a closer look at the practices they use in their operation.

Spreading manure. The Burris farm operation includes raising turkeys on contract, managing beef cattle and keeping a small sow herd to raise 4-H pigs. That means they have manure available.

“We utilize all the manure we have, and even buy more when we can,” Jarrod explains. “We like to buy some chicken manure to complement it. Chicken manure is more potent in terms of nutrients than turkey manure.”

Paying attention to soil types and soil testing goes along with managing manure properly. When they can apply manure closer to planting season, when nitrogen losses should be minimal, they take credit for nitrogen and reduce the amount of commercial nitrogen applied for corn. Their standard nitrogen program includes applying 40 pounds as starter at planting.

No-tilling when possible. “We do a lot of no-till,” Jarrod says. “Our planter is set up with residue wheels on the front and spiked closing wheels on the back so we can do a good job of placing seed and closing the seed trench.”

Since they must apply manure at various times, including sometimes in the spring, some tillage is necessary in certain situations. But no-till is still their system of choice when possible.

Using manure in the system can also increase weed pressure. They count on 15-inch rows vs. 30-inch rows in soybeans to help close the canopy as quickly as possible and get a jump on weed control.

Including cover crops. Oats and radishes are a cover crop mix that works well, the Burrises note. If they can, they seed this mix with an air seeder in the fall. To be most effective, oats and radishes need to be seeded by mid-September in their area. When that’s not possible, they have used cereal rye and wheat as cover crops.

Implementing conservation practices. Not every potential soil erosion problem can be solved by no-till and cover crops, especially on rolling fields and on reclaimed strip mine land. Over the years, Jarrod’s father, Mike, who did excavating and bulldozing, helped them install multiple conservation practices. They’ve used the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for cost-share help, and still participate in it when they can.

Doing conservation off the farm. Amy practices what she preaches, helping shepherd the conservation program across Indiana. She is a member of the State Soil Conservation Board, appointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb. “One of our main jobs is overseeing the Clean Water Indiana program,” she says. “Conservation is very important to me.”

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