Testing can provide the vital information needed when deciding what cover crop seed to purchase. Pictured here is AMS Botanist Elizabeth Tatum identifying a weed seed. (AMS photo)
Cover crops are the real heroes in the world of agriculture. Their job starts after a field is harvested and ends just before the next season’s crop is planted. Expectations for cover crops are high because if they don’t produce, the next crop may suffer.
After crops are harvested each year, planting fields are left bare. Runoff from rainwater, wind, and other forms of erosion devastate planting fields by stripping essential nutrients from the soil – nutrients needed for the next growing season. In addition to the loss of vital nutrients, the exposed fields are prime real estate for noxious-weed seeds intent on stealing what is left of the field’s nutrients. Replacing the lost nutrients and removing the weedy invaders costs millions of dollars each year for farmers. Read more »
NRCS provides five questions non-operator landowners should ask their farmers about soil health. NRCS graphic by Jennifer VanEps.
More farmers, ranchers and others who rely on the land are taking action to improve the health of their soil. Many farmers are actually building the soil. How? By using soil health management systems that include cover crops, diverse rotations and no-till.
And when they’re building the soil they’re doing something else – they’re also building the land’s production potential over the long-term.
But how do non-operator landowners (people who rent their land to farmers) know if their tenants are doing everything they need to do to make and keep their soil healthy? Barry Fisher, an Indiana farmer and nationally recognized soil health specialist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, recommends that they ask their farming partner these five questions. Read more »
David Brewer is a fifth-generation farmer who manages the Emerson Dell Farm, which was founded in 1883. NRCS photo by Ron Nichols.
Without irrigation, it’s hard to imagine growing a cash crop in an environment that receives less than 12 inches of precipitation annually. Welcome to the world of grain farmers in central and eastern Oregon.
David Brewer is one of those farmers. But rather than looking to the sky for help, he’s looking to the soil — improving its health in an effort to retain and preserve every drop of precipitation that happens to fall on his farm.
Brewer is a fifth-generation farmer who manages the Emerson Dell Farm, which was founded in 1883, and now includes more than 2,000 acres of cropland and 800 acres of pasture — just southeast of The Dalles, Oregon. Read more »
USDA employees, Paul Youngstrum and Eric McTaggart, examine a cover crop radish. NRCS photo by Jody Christiansen.
Corn and soybean farmers across the nation saw an increase in yields last year thanks in part to soil health-building cover crops.
More than 1,900 farmers responded last winter to a survey about cover crops conducted by the USDA’s North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and the Conservation Technology Information Center. The results to the survey were released in late fall.
Farmers who planted corn in a field following a cover crop had a 3.1 percent increase in yield compared to side-by-side fields with no cover crops. Likewise, soybean yields increased 4.3 percent following cover crops, according to the survey. Read more »
Andy and Melissa Dunham, seen here with daughter Leonora, own and operate Grinnell Heritage Farm in Grinnell, Iowa. NRCS photo by Ron Nichols.
Some people are born to farm. Others grow to love it. In Melissa Dunham’s case, she fell in love with a farmer — and now she loves both the farmer and the farm.
“I was happily employed in the Twin Cities, but then I fell in love with this wonderful man who told me he was an organic vegetable farmer,” Melissa said. “I thought, ‘Sure, why not?’ We got married within seven months.”
It was an unexpected career and life change. “Everybody thought I was nuts moving down here to central Iowa to be a farmer,” she said. But now she’s growing food she believes in — and in a way that will leave the land in better condition for the generations to follow. Read more »
A center-pivot irrigation system uses low pressure-high uniformity to water a cover crop mix that includes Daikon Radish on Mitch Holtzclaw’s farm in O’Brien, Fla. NRCS photo by Doug Ulmer.
For three generations members of Mitch Holtzclaw’s family has farmed land in Suwanee County, Florida. Today, Holtzclaw grows more than 1,000 acres of peanuts, corn and small grains.
His farm is about three miles from the historic Suwannee River, which flows directly into the Gulf of Mexico. The sandy soil types and karst limestone topography on Holtzclaw’s farm are characteristic of the watersheds in the middle Suwannee River Basin and cause for concern over increased nutrient concentrations that can be found in the area’s ground and surface water. Read more »