Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Auglaize County farm used to test winter cover crop planting techniques

By Nancy Allen

John Miller drives his tractor attached to a grain drill while Matt VanTilburg a. . .

ST. MARYS - Local OSU Extension officials are using an area farm to test a different technique for planting winter cover crops.
On Wednesday morning, farmer Stanley Brown used his seed drill to plant cover crops in wheat stubble on his farm along state Route 364, southwest of St. Marys. Later in the afternoon, VanTilburg Farms officials used a seeder with 90-foot-wide booms to plant cover crops in rows of 8-foot-tall corn on the farm.
Extension officials will host a field day on Sept. 25 so the public can view the test plots containing 10 different cover crops.
"It's a different view, that's for sure," Brown said of riding in the tall planter. "I've never ridden above tall corn that was all tasseled like that."
Brown said he has been using no-till farming in combination with cover crops for three years. Concerns over phosphorous runoff spurred him to try the practice, he said.
"My farm is less than a half mile from the lake. I don't have any livestock, but I'm concerned about phosphorous," Brown said. "You want to take those nutrients on the ground and have them get absorbed into the (cover crop) plants."
Phosphorous is the main nutrient feeding Grand Lake's blue-green algae. This is the sixth consecutive year the state has issued a water advisory for the lake due to unsafe levels of algae toxins.
Matt VanTilburg of VTF said more area farmers are planting cover crops. The ag business does custom cover crop planting using the tall seeder. The company put the first one into service in 2011 and added one last year.
"They're doing it to improve their soils and ultimately improve the yields of their crops," VanTilburg said.
New state-mandated rules for farmers in the watershed also led to the increase in cover crops, he added. The rules aimed at livestock farmers are designed to decrease the runoff of phosphorous, which comes mainly from manure into the lake.
"No matter the reason you try it, once you start, it seems to work," VanTilburg said.
Brown said he expects a long learning curve to grow cover crops successfully, but he's up for the task.
"I want to increase my soil fertility and build soil organic matter," he said. "That's going to be a 5- to 10-year plan."
Planting cover crops earlier increases the chance of success, Brown said. Most winter cover crops are planted after corn and soybeans have been harvested in the fall, leaving a shorter growing period for the plants to get established, he said.
When combined with no-till, cover crops improve soil structure, reduce compaction, decrease sediment and nutrient runoff, officials said. The techniques also take up and store nutrients from the soil for spring-planted row crops such as soybeans and corn.
Cover crops also give farmers a place to spread manure and reduce the need for manmade fertilizers. The crops also can be fed to cattle as forage, experts said.
"When I take the beans off this winter, I'm going to plant more cover crops," Brown said. "I'll have cover crops on practically the whole farm this winter."
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