May 6, 2014
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."
Improve soil: Mike Burkholder believes no-tilling and use of cover crops has not only protected his sandy loam soil, but has improved organic matter and soil health at the same time.
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.
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.
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."
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