The North Bend Eagle

 

Inspecting cover crop
Seth Feala and his dog Sam check out the cover crop on the family farm north of North Bend. This is the second year they have planted a cover crop.

Cover crops turnign brown fields green again

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 10/25/17

The fields are ready for harvest. Many are already harvested. Yet there are still green fields in the area.

What these green fields are is cover crop, an old farming practice that has had a resurgence.

“It’s fairly new in this area,” Jason Feala said. “The seed corn companies were promoting it.”

A cover crop is planted in the fall among the rows of the main crop, usually corn or soybeans in this area, and allowed to grow and cover the ground after the main crop has been harvested.

Cover crop planterThe Fealas made this planter themselves to allow them to scatter cover crop seed among full-grow corn. Several neighbors have hired them to plany cover crops on their own fields.

Feala, along with his brother Seth, decided to try it in 2016 with financial assistance from the seed corn companies. Seth found a high boy sprayer used to treat corn borer in the ‘80s and ‘90s. With equipment he found in the back of their shop, he refitted the high boy to disperse seed over 12 rows. Last year they just did their seed corn fields and one field of commercial corn as well as fields for a few other farmers. This year they did the same for their farm, but Seth seeded twice as many other fields for farmers in the area as he did last year.

Cover crop can be grass cover crops such as cereal rye, annual rye grass, wheat, triticale, barley and oats or sorghums like Sudan grass, pearl millet, grain sorghum, and corn; vegetables such as turnips, rapeseed, collards, and radishes; legumes like hairy vetch, several types of clover (red, ladino, white or crimson), field or winter peas, cowpeas, soybeans, or sunn hemp.

The Fealas planted a mixture of turnips, rye and radishes in 2016. This year they planted Ethiopian cabbage, collards, rapeseed, oats and cereal rye, varying the combinations some in different fields.

It usually takes at least three years to see the effect of the cover crop but the Fealas have already seen one.

“It’s not really impressive in some areas,” Seth Feala said. “But you can see where it is helping out. In the sandy areas the whole field was even (in yields) not the big variance like it used to be.”

Seth Feala went on to say that he feels they are winging it in our area.

“Studies haven’t been done in river bottom land,” he said. “It’s hard to get away from tillage because river bottom is so hard to work.”

The cost of the cover crop is anther reason it is slowly taking off.
Costs ranged from about $24 per acre for a minimal approach (rye seed and drilling) to about $58 per acre for a “cocktail” seed mix with a herbicide application.

Herbicide applications may be needed in the spring to kill the cover crop though some will die off in the winter.

These costs are offset by a variety of benefits: decreased field crop fertilizer needs, improved soil health, and better functioning of ecosystems. Cover crops improve soil health with the potential to increase soil organic matter content, increase or reduce loss of soil nitrogen and other nutrients and decrease run-off and wind and water erosion potential and provide supplemental grazing.

 

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