While many farmers rely on spring tillage to dry out wet soils, Jerry Ackerman goes the other way. His cover crop/no-till program helps him handle heavy rains and wet soils better than tillage and drain tiles. In 2013, it even helped him fight waterhemp thanks to the strips of cereal rye he seeded the previous fall in soybeans and corn.
Alabama soybean grower Annie Dee is working with nature on her 2,500 acres. The United Soybean Board member has seen the benefit of beneficial insects in her own fields and is supplementing native populations with honeybees.
Speed, repeatability and ability to sample odd shaped zones are major benefits to using automated soil sampling. With some machines, farmers can collect up to 40 cores in as many seconds, traveling at 5 mph.
Iowa farmer Blake Hollis prefers to be part of the water quality solution. While the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit on farm-sourced nitrogen in watersheds that lead to the Raccoon River have drawn controversy, efforts to the east where Hollis farms are drawing praise...and money.
From weeds to insect pests to disease, resistance to efficient, economical crop protection products is threatening their efficacy and raising costs for crop producers. So why do regulations or the chemical industry always seem to have a delayed reaction to resistance? A big part of the problem involves dueling definitions, suggests Tim Dennehy, manager, Global Insect Resistance Management, Bayer Seeds.
Control of European corn borer (ECB) with Bt traits has been a resounding success. While growers fight trait-tolerant corn rootworms and herbicide-tolerant weeds, control of European corn borer remains constant. Control has been so effective that John Tooker, associate professor, department of entomology, Pennsylvania State University, suggests European corn borer may not be the problem it once was.
Early-season corn and weeds don’t just compete; they also interact on a genetic level. Weeds grow bigger while corn plants grow less. Sharon Clay, professor of plant science, South Dakota State University (SDSU), used genetic mapping technologies to disclose what happens in the plant.
If you think your soil loss is tolerable because the revised universal soil loss equation (RUSLE) says so, you might want to think again. “We are learning that we must have perennial cover in places where water moves, even with no-till,” says Rick Cruse, agronomy professor, Iowa State University (ISU).
The case for no-till keeps on building. Tillage is increasingly viewed as destructive to soil structure and detrimental to root colonizing arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus (AMF), an important player in supplying plants with phosphorous. AMF is also credited with production of glomalin, the “glue” that holds soil aggregates together.
"Planning cropping strategies to build carbon is the next step," says Doug Hanson, who farms with his father and uncle in northeastern Illinois. "Improving carbon is a big part of the biological side of no-till and now cover crops. As a producer, carbon hasn't been something I've focused on, but we need to start asking more questions about it."
Soil health tests are popping up around every corner, and farmer use is growing. Each has its adherents, and many offer a wealth of information to a degree unimaginable only a few years ago. As a soil scientist and landowner, Ward Labs President Ray Ward believes a diverse microbial community is an important measurement of soil health.
What is your data worth? Indiana farmer and software engineer Aaron Ault notes that data exchanged in commercial agriculture can be compared to Google or Amazon—and as data sharing increases, the cost of services will decrease. "If they couldn't use our data, those services would be way out of line,” he says.
There is no single recipe to determine the right cover crop mix for a particular field, much less an entire farm. You need to know each field, set goals and set a budget that makes sense. Are the primary concerns to retain and build nutrient levels for the coming crop, managing moisture, compaction or simply building soil health? Is grazing a potential income source? Which cover crops match the post-harvest-to-freeze interval in your area? Do you want to deal with pre-plant burn-down or do you prefer letting winterkill do the job?