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See Soil Changes, Believe in Soil HealthSee Soil Changes, Believe in Soil Health

Mike Burkholder will get off the tractor to talk to anyone about cover crops' impact on soil health.

Tom Bechman 1

May 6, 2014

2 Min Read

Mike Burkholder agreed to host a field day in mid-April on his farm in St.Joseph County just because he believes in cover crops. He even got an adjacent landowner whose farm isn't no-tilled to let him dig a soils pit there. And he dug one on his own farm, where he has no-tilled and used cover crops for the past several years.

"There were no roots, nothing, in the profile on the conventional pit," says John Dooms, a board member of the St. Joseph County Soil and Water Conservation District who attended the field day. "In Mike's pit there were lots of roots."


They didn't go down as far as Mike would like, but he blames that on the slow spring to let cover corps warm up and grow. There were roots down about two feet.

Related: 5 Ways To Start Boosting Soil Health Now

Later, he took another person interested in cover crops out to the field to see what his soil looked like. He even jumped off his tractor and parked his fertilizer spreader to do it. He is passionate about cover crops and what they can do for soil health.

Cover crops are of special benefit since Mike's soils are primarily sandy loam, although he has a variety of soils, including a small amount of muck. Using a potato fork, he raked back soil and uncovered a mass of roots. The roots could only have come from the cover crop growing in the field. He is certain he has built up his organic matter and soil heath by using cover crops in the recent past.

Related: Expect Your Agronomist to Talk About Soil Health Tests

During the field day, someone brought a soil penetrometer, often used to check for soil compaction. If the probe meets resistance form a compacted layer, it's hard to push. Usually there is a dial of some relative scale that moves into the red zone when the soil gets tough and hard to penetrate.

"We could go 15 inches down and not feel resistance on my field," Mike recalls. Some tried to push it into the field which has been conventionally tilled and met resistance. There was a real hard layer they had to penetrate about 8 inches down."

Thinking about a cover crop? Start with developing a plan. Download the FREE Cover Crops: Best Management Practices report today, and get the information you need to tailor a cover crop program to your needs.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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