cover crops update mid Feb 2014

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12 February 2014

Several folks have commented on the lack of cover crop postings on my blog lately…there are reasons for this other than my being trifling….

There is not much to report…..

Part of this was expected……when we went into this project last year most folks in an effort to get a good early stand planted the cover crop behind corn……That was great for last year. But this year it meant that a lot of cover crop was behind beans and late…this was not a good year to plant late cover….

A lot of the paddocks sown at my house after say the 20th of October still have not shown me anything….nothing planted at my house after the 1st of November has shown me anything….
Photo below.
home plot brown

My best field which had was planted memorial day and had great cover on it is now just a brown biomass. There are possibly some Rape plants which are not dead. I am pretty sure the crimson clover is okay and just not visible because of the biomass. I think a few winter peas still survive….but everything else appears to have winter killed….even the winter oats…the mustard that was so pretty in the fall is a few scraggly frosted stems where it bolted. The radishes are nearly be;owere is a picture from Eastview. Taken the end of October. I talked to F.C. this week and he says it is just a brown dead looking patch right now….

Below is a photo taken of Howard Smiths official test plot also taken on Halloween. I have not been back to look at it since the cold weather….
howard smith fall 2013

Below are some cover crop plots at the Orange Research station. In the foreground were the early planted and in the background were the same plots planted after October 25th. It was not a good year to plant late cover crops…..
orange plots

Below Rye….seeded mid September and amended with dairy manure…..a very good cover….
early rye

Below Rye seeded mid November after beans with no amendments
late rye

Summer Cover Crops
We are in the process of soliciting orders for summer cover crop seed…..We have a few producers who can and do plant summer cover crops as part of the project. We also have a few other producers who have requested to buy seed who are not a part of the project.

This summer we are going to buy Kings Agriseed and they will blend and bag and label the mix for us….

The tentative mix is below….tentative because we may have to adjust the mix to get the needed volume to balance. It will be a pretty complex mix with a lot of diversity.

for more information or to order….contact Jim Tate at


keenbell move
Above…..Keenbell Farm daily move while grazing summer cover….10 acres cover. Stocked at 70 animal units per acre per day grazed in July and again in September. 1400 animal unit grazing days on 10 acres….steers gaining upwards of 3.5 lbs per day. They are planting thirty plus acres this year.

COVER CROP OBSERVATIONS…….. by Tate and in no particular order than as they come to me…..each is probably a great topic for extensive debate and discussion.

Remember the great quote from Henry Ford…..”Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.”

 What you plant needs to be influenced mostly by what you are trying to accomplish. Different species of covers have different attributes.
 The best nitrogen fixation and biomass cover is generally considered by grain producers to be a weed but it is Vetch and I love Lana Wolly Pod Vetch.
 Next best nitrogen fixer is Crimson clover.
 Early planted covers do the most good in soil protection and micro biota feeding.
 Tillage kills life in the soil….Gabe Brown from North Dakota does not even use row markers because it is too much tillage for him….he told me that himself…..
 I know most guys want to be planting corn as soon as possible….but waiting for the cover crop to achieve some biomass and putting the biomass in contact with the soil is invaluable.
 Adding livestock to the rotation is very valuable in soil building and enhances the process….cattle prices are good and are expected to hold for a few years as the national herd is at historic low levels….I have improved my pastures simply by implementing a program of managed grazing….and quit buying lime and fertilizer….over five years ago….
 Rye grass and Tillage Radishes and perhaps a few other crops are going to be on the Virginia approved cover crop species list in the new cost share year…..
 The benefit of a tillage radish is not the large radish everyone wants to show off….the large radish is simply a nitrogen sink showing how much nitrogen is in the soil after the cash crop….the benefit of the radish is the long tap root that penetrates deep into the soil….as well as the ground covering large leaf biomass that winterkills.
 Mixtures are good but they do not have to be as complex as I have made them…..a grass, a legume and a brassica will go a long way….
 We need to find ways to get cover crops planted in beans earlier and more effectively….this includes finding species that will work….if you have ideas … me we are looking for innovators….
 Small fine seed work pretty well for broadcasting
 Larger seed work well for feeding birds and indigenous livestock when broadcasting.
 Buckwheat will come up where it touches the soil….
 Sumer cover crops produce much more biomass and will build soil more quickly.
 Summer cover crops work very well in managed grazing.
 Summer cover crops when grazed still put incredible amounts of biomass on the soil.
 Fall 2012 late planted covers still did well in the spring…..mostly because the spring was so wet that corn could not be planted early…..I hope that some producers recognized the value of letting the cover crops go for a while…..but I realize that corn planting fever burns hot
 Cover crops have become a hot commodity with the seed vendors….there are now cover crop vendors everywhere….some are calling me now….two years ago they would not return my call. Producer demand has driven this
 I still think that corn no till seeded directly into legume stands with the legumes still living has great potential….research has been published using bluegrass and white clover.
 Cover crops are great for wildlife and great for pollinators as well….cover crops need to be a part of buffers, and cropping rotations and farmscaping…
 And finally……the Hanover Caroline Soil and Water Conservation District is now the proud administrative body for the 15 foot cover crop roller previously housed at the Three Rivers District. It is available for use by anyone wanting to give crop rolling a try. We are probably going to house it in Western Hanover with a producer who seriously wants to use it regularly….there is no fee to use it….just call us here at the district to discuss use and transport. It is on a dedicated Donahue transport trailer. But for liability reasons probably either the district or NRCS will transport the unit. Photos below.
roller wide

roller hitch

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