“Feed the soil to feed you”; Langdon Research Center held a cover crop meeting

The “white barren areas” in our fields, especially along the headlands and road-side/in-field ditches are very prominent this year.

Posted on 8/4/17

That is due to the high salt and sodium levels, which prevent regular cash crops to yield profitably. According to the NDSU projected 2017 crop budgets for NE North Dakota, average direct planting cost for spring  wheat for seed, fertilizer and fuel is $84.42/acre. For canola, it is $130.03/acre for the same inputs, whereas, for corn and soybeans it is $160.38 and $79.90/acre respectively. This is a net loss and it does not help these areas either.

In order to manage and discuss “how producers can actually make a profit on these unproductive areas”, the NDSU Langdon Research Extension Center, Cavalier County Extension, Cavalier County Soil Conservation District and Langdon Natural Resources Conservation Services, hosted a meeting for the area producers at the Langdon REC on July 27.

Naeem Kalwar of Langdon REC mentioned the increased gap between rainfall versus the potential evapotranspiration in 2017 compared to 2016. As per the Langdon NDAWN station, from April 1 to July 25 2016, Langdon area received 14.49” of rain and the potential evapotranspiration was 21.14”. In 2017, from April 1 to July 25, the rainfall received was 4.84”, whereas, the potential evapotranspiration for the same period was 22.50”. He cited that the gap of 17.66” between rainfall and potential evapotranspiration in 2017 has resulted in increased wicking up of soil water (capillary water movement) from headlands/lower areas into the higher productive areas. Since regular crops will not grow well on these areas, he suggested planting 30 feet wide buffer strips of perennial salt-tolerant grass mix along the headlands/ditches. These grasses can grow at high salt levels and after being established, can use excessive moisture, intercept it before it will wick up to the productive areas, reduce evaporation, add organic material and induce microbial activity. Seed rate for the mix is 7-8 pounds/acre and it costs about $30-35/acre. These grasses take about 1 year to be established and after that, they can be mowed or hayed. It takes about 2 years for them to suppress weeds.

Craig Brumbaugh of Langdon NRCS, talked about the importance of soil health and that how essential it is to have the living roots growing throughout the season either by inter-seeding cover crops into regular crops or after harvest. Cover crop mixes should be designed for the producer’s goals and site-specific resource concerns, which may include salinity/sodicity management, water utilization, hay production and overall improvement of soil health. He mentioned that could be achieved by maximizing the diversity of species in the mix, keeping the soils covered to reduce erosion and evaporation and reducing tillage to encourage soil biology. He specially cited the example of Krahn field demonstration site (8 miles west of Langdon along Hwy-5), where an unproductive saline cropland was turned into highly productive hay land by planting a perennial mix of salt-tolerant grasses with alfalfa.

Brenyn Hardy of Langdon NRCS followed it by talking about the government programs pertaining to minimizing losses on unproductive lands. He mentioned USDA vegetative practices available through voluntary conservation programs to get something growing in these spots and improve soil health conditions. He talked about the big losses on these unproductive spots year after year and the money spent on seed and fertilizer. He recommended using perennial grasses and/or cover crops over time to make these unproductive spots smaller and productive spots larger, and improve overall soil health.

Walsh county extension agent, Brad Brummond, talked about the success of cover crops at the Zahradka farm. He walked the participants of the meeting through how Justin Zahradka despite being a 17 years old fresh starting farmer/rancher, planted cover crops on his farm not only for his cows to graze but also to improve soil fertility and health along with earning a profit. He presented five-year data of planting cover crops after harvesting regular crops since 2012. On average, Justin’s cows gained 2 lb./day, while grazing cover crops.

Meeting MC was Cavalier County Extension Agent, Anitha Chirumamilla. The Cavalier County Soil Conservation District provided doughnuts.