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Soil Health tour and No-Till seeding demonstrations held

This is Part two of the articles that feature soil health.

The 2017 Cavalier County Soil Health Tour &Demonstrations was held on Thursday, October 12, at the Langdon Research Extension Center.

Posted 10/26/17

By Lisa Nowatzki

The Cavalier County Extension, Cavalier County Soil Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Langdon Research Extension Center contributed to the event.

Cover crops: buzz words that garner a great deal of attention in the grower and producer circles.

Why use cover crops? What are their benefits? According to the Prairie Farmer website, cover crops are multifunctional.  They help use moisture and can actually help fields dry out. Deep root cover crops increase water infiltration and help build up organic matter. Cover crops can also suppress weeds and be used as a source of livestock feed. Some cover crops encourage wildlife like birds to feed off of the insects and earthworms in the soil. Other deep-root cover crops find and gather deep-seated nitrogen and release it into the rooting zone as decaying plant matter. Cover crops also help reduce soil erosion and have also been used to break disease cycles.

Part of the beauty of cover crops is revealed in their ability to suppress weeds. By growing cover crops, producers suppress weeds in several ways.

Cover crops provide direct competition for nutrients and sunlight and, also, release plant growth inhibiting substances. The crops can block the stimuli needed for weed seed germination. They can also change soil micro makeup that suppresses weed growth.

According to the June issue of Extension, even after the life of a cover crop has been expended, the residuals can still be utilized to prolong weed suppression in several ways. First, plant matter left on the surface can act as a nutrient rich mulch that acts as a physical barrier to seedling growth. Decomposing matter also produces chemical substances that hinder and suppress weed development and growth.  In the same way decaying matter hinders weed growth, it can also encourage fungi growth that is toxic to weeds. Finally, dead plant matter takes up the nitrogen in low nitrogen soil.

Some Walsh County cattle farmers tried some cover crop mixes. According to NDSU Extension Service, in Walsh County, producers and growers faced flooding and loss of grazing land for beef producers. The county’s need for high quality forage in the fall, improved filtration rates and soil quality have increased interest in cover crops.

During a previous demonstration with Brummond (what or who is this?), producers in the county and in the Red River Valley areas were given different cover crop mixes to plant. After the growing season, producers expressed the desire to continue using cover crops.

Important to the producers in several ways, cover crops that created high quality forage could be produced without pesticides and fertilizers. Cattle did well on cover crop forages and the soil quality improved, especially with turnips and radishes.

All crops need water, and excessive water will have run-off. How do producers reduce residual run-off, practice conservation and protect the soil and water? First, by planting cover crop strips on the marginal land. These small strips of vegetation reduce and sometimes remove sediment, organic matter and other pollutants from run-off and wastewater. Second, some farms practice conservation by no-till or partial no-tillage. In these areas, the residual plant matter is left in place, and the soil is not disturbed. This type of soil conservation also provides natural water filtration that reduces the sediment and pollutants in run-off water.

Participants were at the Soil Health Tour were treated to a comparison of no-till planting equipment by planting wheat on soybean ground.

To till are not to till is a hot  button question in the farming community. Several issues arise from the argument.  Some producers believe there is no reason for a farmer to ever till the soil. Some proponents of no-till see the benefits revealed in the soil health.

Good soil health improves crop yields. Some experts like Tony Vyn of Perdue University claim no-till practices hold soil sediment and phosphorous in place. It also improves nutrient cycling through crops.

What about tilling the soil? Some producers have tried no-till with little success. First, no-till equipment is expensive. Some farmers did not see any yield improvement and within two years changed back. Proponents of no till believe that plowing helps preserve soil moisture. It also helps with surface drainage and is very helpful with weed control.

Till or no-till, soil health, and water conservation are all concerns of every producer. No matter what conservation process is chosen, it is a win-win for the farmer and the soil.