COVER CROP OPTIONS FOR PREVENTED PLANT ACRES

Although producers are tried their hardest to get as much planted as possible this spring, there are fields and especially areas of many fields that were simply too wet to get seeded this spring that will fall under the classification of prevented planting acres. The question is what to do with these acres.

The best option would be to plant a cover crop or annual forage crop on these acres later this summer if they dry out enough to seed. Having desirable plants growing in these areas will help dry the soil down as the plants use the moisture and transpire moisture through their leaves.

Drying soil down with plants is better than relying on evaporation to dry the soil out. One of the big advantages to using plants to dry the soil down is if there are any salts in the soil profile, they will stay where they are as opposed to being brought to the surface where salts will be deposited and concentrated as the moisture evaporates. As we saw during the wet years starting in 2011, the concentration of salts left on the surface as moisture evaporates can lead to expansion of saline areas or the development of new saline seeps.

In addition, having plants growing and living roots in the soil is beneficial to soil health.  Living roots support the soil microbes and between them, they help improve soil structure.

Cover crops also provide the opportunity to add more diversity to the cropping system, which is another one of the soil health principles, however, having a living root in the ground is probably more important even if it is just a single species or simple mix to use excessive moisture and provide soil cover.

In case you haven’t seen it, the following is a good article on Cover Crop Options for 2022 prevented plant acres which just came out in the latest issue of the NDSU Crop & Pest Report:

COVER CROP OPTIONS FOR 2022 PREVENTED PLANT ACRES  – Despite high crop prices, some acres in North Dakota may still be prevent planted during the 2022 growing season. It is essential to establish covers in 2022, at least to use excess soil moisture, otherwise, there will be a high chance of 2022 prevent plant acres going into prevent plant again in 2023. In addition, cover crops can be used for grazing, haying, baleage, preventing erosion, adding plant and microbial diversity, and keeping soils healthy and productive. Like any other decision, selection of cover crops, whether a single species or a species mix, should meet the objectives of the landowners or producers. Premixes may serve some purposes, but they might not meet all. Custom mixes are better suited for farm specific or, even better, field specific objectives.

Here are some potential questions one should ask to finalize a cover crop mix:

1)      Is the field affected by excess levels of water-soluble salts and/or sodicity?

2)      What will be the next crop on the field where cover crop is going to be planted in 2022, to consider and avoid volunteer issues?

3)      What could be the herbicide and weed considerations?

4)      Are there any disease considerations?

5)      Is grazing an option?

6)      Is haying or baleage an option?

7)      Do the objectives include a species that over-winters and greens-up in 2023?

8)      Do we just want a cover to use excess moisture this year or would we like to increase organic matter, stimulate biology, and improve fertility?

9)      Do the objectives include attracting pollinators?

10)   What is the maximum cost per acre we are willing to pay for seed and planting?

11)   What is the plan for managing crop residue or plant biomass in case of no grazing, haying, and baleage?

And there could be other considerations as well.

Given below are some of the most common scenarios and cover crop choices without any specific considerations:

A Single species to Use Excess Soil Water and Provide Soil Cover – If planted immediately after the “final planting date”, sorghum, sorghum Sudangrass or a millet would be good options for producing maximum biomass, as these are warm-season species. Stand-alone seeding rates could be 25 to 30 pounds per acre. Another option could be stand-alone oats and barley or a mix of them for providing an effective cover. Seeding rate for stand-alone barley or oats could be 40 to 60 pounds per acre, whereas, in case of a mix, it could be 50% barley with 50% oats (20 to 30 pounds of barley and oats).

A Three-species Mix to Achieve Multiple Objectives – A simple mix could be comprised of a warm-season, cool-season, and a legume. Examples could include sorghum, barley, and field peas. Seeding rates could be 2 pounds or less of sorghum, 15 to 20 pounds of barley and 20 pounds of field peas. If grazing is an option, forage sorghum can be planted with forage barley and forage peas. Seeding rates will remain the same. Another example could be sorghum, radish, and field peas. Seeding rates could be 2 pounds or less of sorghum, 3 pounds per acre of radish and 20 pounds of field peas.

Another Three-species Mix That Can Achieve Multiple Objectives – A mix of barley or oats combined with radish or turnips and chickling vetch can also help improve soil health, use excess moisture, and prevent erosion. Seeding rates could be 20 pounds of barley or oats, 1.65 pounds of radish or 1 pound of turnips and about 6 pounds of chickling vetch. Please note that areas affected by Clubroot should avoid brassicas.

A Three-species Mix for Moderately Saline and Sodic Areas – A mix of barley, oats, and beets can work well on areas that have soil saturated paste electrical conductivity or EC levels of 6.00 (dS/m) or less and a sodium adsorption ratio or SAR of 7.00 or less. Please note that beets do not compete well with other species, so beet percentage in the mix should be 40 to 50%. That will mean 1.4 to 1.5 pounds of beets combined with 15 to 18 pounds of barley and oats.

NDSU Extension has a publication of how to start growing cover crops in North Dakota (North Dakota Cover Crop Recipe – Starting with Cover Crops in North Dakota – MCCC (msu.edu)). Information about the basics, functions, and goals of cover crops can be found in this publication.

NDSU Soil Health website has a great tool called Searchie for quickly getting information on cover crops for prevent plant. Just follow the steps below:

1)      Click on this link: https://www.ndsu.edu/soilhealth/searchie/

2)      Type in “prevented plant”

3)      The search tool will show you where we talk about this topic in videos and podcast episodes. When you click on the link, it will take you directly to the relevant information mentioned in the video or the podcast

Also, NDSU Extension has a 2022 Prevented Planting Analysis Tool, which can be found on this link: https://www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/ag-hub/ag-topics/crop-production/tools/2022-prevented-planting-analysis-tool

For advice about specific cover crop mixes, please contact your local Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension County agents.

This article was authored by Leandro Bortolon, Extension Cropping Systems Specialist; Abbey Wick, Extension Soil Health Specialist and Naeem Kalwar, Extension Soil Health Specialist.

Consider Options for Prevented Planting

There is an old saying that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. While it took more than five minutes, this spring has certainly been an example of how quickly conditions can change.

Up until about mid-April the outlook for this year’s growing season was pretty dismal as indications were that the dry conditions were likely to continue and the extreme drought encompassing the area was apt to persist. Then, a couple of major April snow storms started changing the outlook followed by a couple major rainfall events during May. As a result, what started out looking like a dry spring has now become a challenge due to the excess moisture and cooler temperatures which has slowed spring planting progress.

The last date a crop can be planted and still receive full crop insurance coverage has already passed for the majority of crops. The exception is soybean, sunflower and flax which have a final planting date of June 10 in this area.  After the final planting date, there are three basic options; continue planting the initial crop and receive reduced insurance coverage (about 1% reduction per day out to about 25 days), claim prevented planting without planting an alternative crop (crop to be harvested) or claim prevented planting and seed an alternative or second crop with insurance coverage. Make sure to check with your crop insurance agent to discuss options.

With stronger crop prices and a good moisture profile, most producers will likely continue seeding past the final planting date but with the planting window ticking down, it is becoming apparent that there will be acres that are simply too wet to seed this spring.

The question then becomes what to do with prevented planting acres.

If these acres ever dry out enough to seed, the best option would be to plant a cover crop or annual forage crop on these acres. Having desirable plants growing in these areas will help dry the soil down by transpiring moisture through the plants. That’s preferable to relying on evaporation to dry the soil out. One of the big advantages to transpiring the moisture through plants is if there are any salts in the soil profile, they will stay where they are at in the profile as opposed to being brought to the surface through evaporation. As we saw during the wet years starting in 2011, the concentration of salts left on the surface as moisture evaporates can lead to expansion of saline areas or the development of new saline seeps.

In addition, having plants growing and living roots in the soil is beneficial to soil health.  Roots provide structure for the soil to hang on to when destructive forces of wind and water occur. Plus, living roots build soil. The soil microbiology plays a big role in this process by helping the plants acquire nutrients and water from the soil in exchange for carbon from the plant. Without living roots in the soil, the microbiology slows in existence. The increase in soil microbiology in the soil because of the living roots is directly responsible for healthy soil structure creation.

Better soil structure promotes water and air exchange into and out of the soil through the formation of soil aggregates and increased pore space in the soil. Better structure also gives the soil greater ability to support more weight from tractors or animals.

If you have any doubts, ask yourself this question. After a 2-inch rain, would you rather cross a grass pasture or a stubble field? The grass will typically support traffic better due to better soil structure.

When you think of soil health, think of the biological integrity of your soil. It’s important not only to have enough soil microbes, but also a diverse population. This is how soil biology supports plant growth. Living roots provide soil microbes with something they like to eat to keep their populations up. Once the microbes are well-fed they can go to work for you to improve the health of the soil.

One important change that has occurred with prevented planting acres since they were last common during the wet years starting in 2011 is that cover crops planted on prevented plant acres can now be grazed, hayed or cut anytime without a reduction in the prevented plant payment. As such, prevented planting may provide an opportunity for farmers to plant cover crops for livestock forage.

Following is a good article on planting cover crops for livestock forage that was just recently released by the NDSU Extension Service. A quick side note  – if you do think you may have some prevented planting acreage you would like to seed to cover crops or annual forages, you may want to start sourcing seed as it sounds like some annual forages and cover crops species are getting hard to find.

Consider Planting Cover Crops for Livestock Forage – Challenging weather conditions due to a combination of excess moisture and cool temperatures have inhibited spring planting, resulting in the potential for above normal acres of prevented planting.

In addition, many livestock producers in the region are short on forage due to severe drought in 2020 and 2021 and delayed pasture readiness this spring.

“The increase in preventive-plant acres provides an opportunity for the production of supplementary forage for livestock to offset the shortage of forage supplies,” says Miranda Meehan, North Dakota State University Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency provides full prevented planting payment on the first insured crop if a second crop is not planted. However, full payment can still be received if the second crop planted is a cover crop, and it is not harvested for grain or seed. The cover crop can be grazed, hayed or cut anytime without a reduction of payment. Contact your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) or Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to verify whether the cover crop seeded is an approved mix.

“Cover crops for grazing can provide significant cost savings to producers by minimizing the need for baled forages or provide an alternative grazable forage to allow recovery to overgrazed pastures,” says Kevin Sedivec, NDSU Extension rangeland management specialist.

The seed mixture options for full and late-season grazing could include cool-season cereals (oats, barley, triticale), warm-season grasses (sorghum-sudan, sudangrass, pearl millet), brassicas (turnips, radishes, kale), broadleaf plants (sunflowers, buckwheat) and legumes (forage peas, clovers, vetch).

For guidance selecting the right option to fit your needs, refer to NDSU Extension publication “Annual Cover Crop Options for Grazing and Haying in the Northern Plains” by searching for it online or contacting your local NDSU Extension office.

“Ranchers should introduce livestock to these mixes slowly and allow them to adjust to the cover crop mixture that may be nutrient-rich in comparison with mid- and late-summer range,” says Meehan.

If using brassicas in a mix for grazing, the general recommendation is to limit livestock to less than 50% of the seed mixture to avoid digestive disorders in cattle. Provide livestock with dry hay or other forage prior to turnout and gradually introduce them to cover crops during a period of several days if possible.

Cover crops for late-season grazing should be seeded no later than Aug. 15 to be cost-effective in the northern Plains; however, planting earlier will increase overall tonnage and enhance deeper root growth to increase organic carbon and feed for the soil microbial population. Warm-season crops will have limited value if seeded after Aug. 1 due to the short growing season that remains.

If preventative plant acres are identified early, planting a full-season cover crop will provide an excellent option for summer and late-season grazing. Full-season cover crops can be seeded as early as mid-June.

If Haying is the Goal – Recommended species for haying include cool-season cereals (oats, barley, triticale), warm-season grasses (sorghum-sudan, foxtail millet, sudangrass) and legumes (forage peas, clovers and vetch). The cereal grains and warm-season grasses can be seeded in monocultures or mixtures with or without the legume if approved by FSA. However, mixtures are preferred to increase diversity to benefit the soil microbial population, pollinators and some wildlife species.

If Silage/Haylage is the Goal – This is a great option when harvesting before a freeze to achieve silage of the desired moisture conditions. Moisture needs to be 65% to 70% for a bunker and 60% to 68% for silo bags. A hard freeze will reduce the moisture content dramatically within 24 to 48 hours. Haylage can be put up at a lower moisture level (40% to 60%).

“While excess moisture has created planting challenges, it is important that adequate topsoil moisture is available to support the growth of cover crops,” Meehan says. “In addition to available soil moisture, recommended planting dates and seed availability will limit producers’ options.”

Farmers intending on planting cover crops on prevented-planting acres to suppress weeds and enhance soil health have an opportunity to market this forage to livestock producers. The NDSU Feedlist (www.ag.ndsu.edu/feedlist/) can connect crop producers with livestock producers in search of additional forage.

“Planting a cover crop can enhance your soil health while creating feed for full and late-season grazing or hay and silage production,” Sedivec says.

Living Roots as Often as Possible

There are five basic principles to building soil health: soil armor or keeping the soil covered, minimizing soil disturbance, plant diversity, keeping a living root in the soil for as much of the growing season as possible, and livestock integration, when possible.

As living roots were mentioned in the previous article, the following is a primer on the importance of living roots developed by Jay Fuhrer, retired soil health specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

There are many sources of food in the soil that feed the soil food web, but there is no better food than the sugars exuded by living roots. Our perennial grasslands consist of cool season grasses, warm season grasses, and flowering forbs. Consequently, adaptable plants are able to grow during the cool spring and fall weather, as well as the summer heat, allowing for a continual live plant feeding carbon exudates to the soil food web during the entire growing season. Our cropland systems typically grow cool or warm season annual cash crops, which have a dormant period before planting and/or after harvest.

Soil organisms feed on sugar from living plant roots first. Next, they feed on dead plant roots, followed by above ground crop residues, such as straw, chaff, husks, stalks, flowers, and leaves. Lastly, they feed on the humic organic matter in the soil. Healthy soil is dependent upon how well the soil food web is fed. Providing plenty of easily accessible food to soil microbes helps them cycle nutrients that plants need to grow.

When production agriculture began, we converted our grasslands from 50-100 perennial species per acre into a single annual crop. These diverse species of perennial plants had a lot of root exudates, which provided year-round food to the soil food web. With an annual monoculture cropping system came a long fallow period in the spring before planting, followed by another long period of fallow after harvest in the fall.

I used to think cover crops were important, but now I think they are essential because cover crops are able to fill in the dormant fallow period and provide the missing live root exudate, which is the primary food source for the soil food web. A properly fed soil food web will produce biotic glue compounds like glomalin that are key to building stable soil aggregates. A well-aggregated soil has more pore space and thus can both infiltrate and store significantly higher amounts of water.

Cover crops are game changers as they produce an extra influx of carbon which is also an influx of food for the soil biology. The goal is more root mass with soil aggregates and ultimately more carbon. Cover crops may be incorporated into a cropping system as annuals, biennials, or perennials. Starting on a small acre scale will allow farmers and ranchers to find the best fit for their operation. 

Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy People

Studies have found that over the last 70 years, the level of nutrients in many foods has fallen between 10 and 100 percent. Based on that, there are some estimates that an individual today would need to consume twice as much meat, three times as much fruit, and four to five times as many vegetables to obtain the same amount of minerals and trace elements available in those same foods in 1940. There are many who believe this overall decline in nutrient density is likely having an impact on human health and well-being.

Restoring the nutrient density of food is not as simple as just adding these minerals and trace elements to the soil.  Rarely are minerals and trace elements completely absent from the soil. Rather, most deficiencies are due to soil conditions not being conducive for nutrient uptake. The minerals are present in the soil but are not plant-available.

It is estimated that around 85 to 90 percent of plant nutrient acquisition is microbially-mediated. These microbes are plant-dependent, surviving on carbon compounds exuded by the plant roots in exchange for making soil nutrients available to the plants. As such, soil health practices which increase the microbial biomass and activity in the soil should result in better nutrient acquisition by the plant and ultimately, higher nutrient density in food derived from the plants.

There is recent research which is beginning to show that soil health is connected to human health and that ties soil health practices to improved human health and nutrition.

For example, new research by an interdisciplinary team at Penn State, recently demonstrated that soil disturbance can directly impact a key dietary factor associated with long-term human health. This study found that soil tillage may significantly reduce the availability of ergothioneine (ERGO) in crops. ERGO is an amino acid produced by certain types of soil-borne fungi and bacteria that is known as a “longevity vitamin” due to its potent antioxidant properties.

Research suggests that a lack of ergothioneine in the diet may result in increased incidences of chronic diseases of aging, such as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s, and reduced life expectancy.

The researchers found that ERGO concentrations declined as tillage intensity increased, due to tillage disrupting the fungi populations in the soil and compromising the availability of this important amino acid.

The study was comprised of a randomized complete block design with three tillage treatments — moldboard plowing/disking/harrowing (MB), which represents the most intense tillage; chisel plowing/disking/harrowing (CD), which represents a medium amount of tillage; and no-till (NT) — each replicated four times. The crops grown in the study include maize, soybeans and oats.

Results of the study found that as tillage increased from NT to MB, ERGO content declined by 32% for maize, 33% for soybeans and 28% for oats. In addition to being associated with reduced ERGO concentrations, increased tillage also was associated with reduced crop yields.

The full news release on the study can be read at Soil tillage reduces availability of ‘longevity vitamin’ ergothioneine in crops | Penn State University (psu.edu) .

Preliminary results from another study recently conducted by the University of Washington have found that farms that used regenerative agriculture practices such as no-till farming, cover crops and diverse crop rotations produced crops with higher levels of certain vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals than farms using conventional practices.

The researchers tested the influence of soil health and soil health scores on the nutrient density of crops by measuring eight pairs of farms using regenerative agriculture practices or conventional practices in the states of North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Tennessee, Kansas, North Dakota and Montana. Each regenerative agriculture farm was paired with a nearby conventional farm that grew the same crop variety, such as peas, sorghum, corn or soybeans.

When compared to crops from conventional farms, crops from regenerative agriculture farms had 34% more vitamin K, 15% more vitamin E, 14% more vitamin B1 and 17% more vitamin B2. The regenerative agriculture crops also had 11% more calcium, 16% more phosphorus and 27% more copper.

The study also compared wheat crops. Regenerative wheat crops were planted in a crop rotation pattern that included cover crops between crops of spring barley and winter wheat. The regenerative wheat samples had 41% more boron, 29% more magnesium, 48% more calcium and 56% more zinc than conventional wheat samples.

The results from this study are considered preliminary due to the relatively small sample size but more studies are planned to better quantify how differences in soil health affect the quality of crops that come from that land.

The full results of this study published in the science journal PeerJ can be found at Soil health and nutrient density: preliminary comparison of regenerative and conventional farming [PeerJ] .

These research results suggest that applying soil health principles can be important, not only for the environment, but also for human health, as it appears that healthy soils produce healthier foods.

Partner Agency Updates

FSA Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP)

The recent snow storms certainly brought some much needed moisture to the area but did catch many livestock producers at an inopportune time with calving and lambing underway.

If anyone did lose livestock during these storms, there is a program through FSA called the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) that may help. LIP is available for producers who have had livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by eligible loss conditions such as adverse weather, disease, and attacks by animals reintroduced to the wild by the federal government. LIP payments are equal to 75 percent of the average fair market value of the livestock. LIP also provides assistance to eligible livestock owners that must sell livestock at a reduced price because of an injury from an eligible loss condition.

Contact your local FSA office to discuss the program if you have losses and want to find out if you would qualify. Make sure to document what animals you lost and have verifiable documents showing your numbers (sale barn/sale receipts, vet records, calving books, etc) and also take pictures of livestock lost.

Owners or contract growers who suffer livestock losses due to an eligible cause of loss must submit a notice of loss and an application for payment to the local FSA office that serves the physical location county where the livestock losses occurred. All of the owner’s or contract grower’s interest in inventory of eligible livestock in that county for the calendar year must be accounted for and summarized when determining eligibility. An owner or contract grower must file a notice of loss within 30 calendar days of when the loss of livestock is first apparent as well as file an application for payment within 60 calendar days after the end of the calendar year in which the eligible loss condition occurred.

ND Dept. of Agriculture’s Soil Health Cover Crop Program

Farmers or ranchers who are planning to plant cover crops at some point during the upcoming growing season may want to take a look at the Soil Health Cover Crop Program available through the ND Department of Agriculture.  Following is a link to more information on the program from the Department of Ag’s website. 

Soil Health Cover Crop Grant Program | North Dakota Department of Agriculture (nd.gov)

The Soil Health Cover Crop Grant Program was funded by the 67th Legislative Assembly. As a conservation program, the program’s primary goal is to protect and enhance soil health statewide. In particular, the program is targeting cropland areas impacted with alkaline soils (saline areas).

The cost share to eligible producers under this program is based on a lottery system. To be eligible, producers must plant the cover crop by August 31 and then complete an online application by October 1. Successful applicants can receive a cost share payment up to $15 an acre with a 50-acre cap per applicant per year.

Because of the lottery based approach to this program, it would be difficult to plant cover crops banking on cost share but if you are already planning to seed cover crops regardless of any cost share, it might be worth throwing your name in the hat. For further details on the program, please call Jason Wirtz at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture at 701-220-1628 or email at jwirtz@nd.gov.

ND farm sees ‘tremendous’ gains with NRCS irrigation aid, advice

Photo credit: NRCS
Article by : Lon Tonneson

Working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to update their irrigation “improved our farm tremendously,” says Vickie Schilling, of Cartwright, N.D.

The family  increased their crop yields, cut the amount of water used, reduced labor costs and made it easier to run their farm and an oil field business at the same time.

Vickie farms with her husband, Rob, and sons, Tyler and Trent. The family grows sugar beets, corn and alfalfa. They also have an oil field welding business.

The land that the Schillings farm in North Dakota has been flood irrigated for decades. It lies along the Yellowstone River southeast of Cartwright near the North Dakota-Montana border

In the fall of 2020, they converted three fields to pivot irrigation. In the spring of 2022, they installed a linear irrigator in a fourth field. A linear machine travels back and forth across a field rather than around a central point like a pivot.

The flood irrigation that was installed in the 1960s still worked, but required a lot of hand labor to operate, Vickie says. The siphon tubes that transfer water from the irrigation canal to the field furrows had be moved manually.
“Rob and I are getting older,” Vickie says, and it was getting harder to do the physical work. Trent and Tyler have always helped, but they are plenty busy away from the farm now with the oil field welding business.

Also, with flood irrigation it was difficult to apply the right amount of water. That’s especially important when trying to germinate sugar beet seeds and water the seedlings. It was easy to wash the seeds out of the row or drown the seedlings with too much water.

Flood irrigation generally uses more water during a growing season than sprinkler irrigation, too. To flood a field, enough water must be applied between the rows so that it runs from one end of the field to the other. Sprinklers apply water directly on top of the row.

“Drought is always something we are concerned about. It affects how much water is in the river,” Tyler says. “We are always trying to conserve water. We don’t want to waste anything.”

The Schillings can monitor their sprinklers and turn them off and on remotely from their computers or cell phones.
Their new irrigation system includes automated soil moisture sensors. The solar powered sensors continuously measure the moisture in the soil from the surface to as much as 10 feet deep. The sensors transmit the readings to a cloud-based platform where the Schillings can access it remotely using an app on their smart phones and computer. A software program factors in the soil type, current weather conditions, the weather forecast and the crop’s growth stage and expected water use to produce recommendations on where to turn on and off the sprinklers and how much water to apply.

Water flow sensors on the sprinklers track water use. Global Positioning System technology on the machines allow the Schillings to track where the irrigators are in the fields. Sensors monitor the irrigators for signs of trouble and send the Schillings text alerts when something goes wrong.

The cloud-based platform gives the Schillings the flexibility to interact and control their irrigation wherever they are 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Schillings received an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) grant from NRCS to help cover some of the costs of converting their systems. NRCS provided technical assistance as well.

“This new system will increase their irrigation water use efficiency by saving more water from evaporation, deep percolation and runoff while also minimizing erosion,” says Nicole Darrington, NRCS district conservationist, Watford City, N.D. “It will also help minimize the nutrients and pesticides transported from surface water. Also, by getting a sprinkler cost-shared, the irrigation water management is where we get to work very closely with the producer in teaching them about timing, distribution and regulating their irrigation water,”

The irrigation project was the first time the Schillings worked with the North Dakota NRCS.

“We had a very good experience,” Vickie says. “Nicole helped me fill out an EQIP application for cost-sharing and wrote a conservation plan for us. It came to together quickly and easily. She was wonderful to work with.”

Media contact:
Lon Tonneson
for the Natural Resources Conservation Service – North Dakota
lon.tonneson@gmail.com
701-361-1105

One of the Schillings’ new pivots stands ready to irrigate sugar beets.. 
Photo credit: Nicole Darrington, NRCS

Supplemental Forage Production Likely Needed for 2022

Moisture conditions have improved across much of the state when compared to this time a year ago. Based on the US Drought Monitor for North Dakota, last year at the beginning of March, the entire state was abnormally dry with over 68 percent of the state considered to be in severe drought. This year, only around 52 percent of the state is classified as being abnormally dry and the area considered to be in severe drought has dropped to around 22 percent. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the drought has intensified to the extreme category for just over 5 percent of the state when compared to last year and the area encompassed by extreme drought conditions is basically northwest North Dakota covering Williams, Divide and a portion of McKenzie counties.

Based on that along with a below average seasonal precipitation outlook by the National Climate Prediction Center for this area during the June-July-August time period, it would appear likely that the drought is going to persist in this area into the 2022 growing season. Not news that anyone wants to hear but it has likely been on the minds of many during the course of this winter with the limited snow cover.

That doesn’t mean we should give up hope for the 2022 growing season. Annual crops still have a chance of reasonable production if we get timely rains during the growing season or if weather patterns happen to change.

Don’t be surprised if our rainfall pattern mimics last year with whatever amount of growing season precipitation that we do receive occurring in just a few major rain events as the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska has documented that rainfall events across the Great Plains are occurring less frequently but with more intensity when they do occur.

If this trend continues, soil resilience could become an even more important factor in yield stability under climate extremes. Soil health practices that increase carbon in the soil improve soil resilience by increasing soil microbial activity which can lead to enhanced soil structural stability. The structural stability comes from better soil aggregation and aggregate stability which improves the soil’s ability to infiltrate and store moisture due to better porosity in the soil.

While annual crops still have a chance for respectable production with timely rain, livestock producers will be facing challenges again in 2022. It is already known that we are more likely than not to see a delay in grazing readiness this spring and at least a 25 percent reduction in forage production from perennial grasses due to the dry conditions that occurred last fall. Throw in lingering effects from the dry conditions that actually started in late summer of 2020 and some possible overuse or overgrazing trying to get livestock through last summer and there could be significant reductions in forage production for 2022.

As such, livestock producers may want to be thinking about annual forages or cover crops that could be used for supplement hay or grazing.

One of the first annual forage options that comes to mind is generally small grains such as barley, oats or triticale, which can be planted from late April to early June. Forage barley is generally considered to be more drought tolerant than oats and more cost effective than triticale. Plus, forage barley generally doesn’t show higher nitrate levels as quickly with stress than forage oats although any of these crops can certainly accumulate nitrates under extended stress conditions.

Another popular option for annual forages is the warm-season grasses such as millet and sorghum-sudan, which can be planted from late May into June. Siberian millet is generally considered the most drought tolerant of the warm-season grasses followed by German millet. The sorghum-sudan hybrids are not as drought tolerant as the millets. Plus, they can be more difficult to cure for hay than the millets.

While any of the above could be grazed as well as being put up for hay, a cover crop mixture may be the best option if you are looking for something strictly to graze. Planting a mixture of cool- and warm-season grasses, broadleaf crops and legume species will create diversity, help minimize risk due to weather conditions and extend the grazing period due to different growth stages.

The diversity created by the cover crop mix can help minimize risk due to weather as the different species included in the mix have different rooting structures and different times of peak moisture and nutrient uptake as compared to single species which are all competing for the same resources at the same time. Because of this, multi-species often out-produce single species. Even if they don’t out yield single species, they still offer increased soil health benefits compared to single species.

A number of crops could be included in cover crop mixes for grazing. The base for these mixes could be one of the forage barley or oat varieties along with one of the millets.

It is often desirable to include a legume in cover crop mixes. Field peas would be an option for earlier seeding. Field pea may not be the best in terms of drought tolerance but they tend to be one of the more cost effective legumes. For later plantings that include warm-season grass, cowpeas or possibly mung beans may be better options. Both are warm-season legumes that are rated as having better drought tolerance than field peas with good to excellent biomass production potential and forage quality.

Most cover crop mixes also include one or more of the Brassica species. Brassica species aren’t necessarily considered drought tolerant but are very desirable in a cover crop mix due to their remarkable forage quality, even after a killing frost. Plus, if we would start to get some moisture later in the season, they may be able to come on to provide later season grazing.

Brassicas noted to have some drought tolerance while still producing high quality forage include collards and forage rapeseed. Others that are maybe not quite as drought tolerant but still providing high quality forage include forage radish and turnips.

If haying may be a consideration, try to keep inclusion rate for the Brassicas on the lower side as the Brassicas tend to be high in moisture and can be difficult to cure for baled forage.

The last group of plants generally included in a cover crop mix would be the broadleaves. One option for a broadleaf would be to include a small amount of sunflower in the mix as sunflower is a deep-rooted crop that tends to be fairly drought tolerant and produces good quality forage that is utilized by cattle. Another option would be one of the spineless safflower varieties designed for grazing. Like sunflowers, they are deep rooted and fairly drought tolerant.

If you would like some help or suggestions on annual forages or cover crops for supplemental haying or grazing in 2022, give us a call at 701-774-2319. Another good source of information is your local NDSU Extension Service office. The NDSU Extension Service also has a good publication available on the subject at Annual Cover Crop Options for Grazing and Haying in the Northern Plains | NDSU Agriculture and Extension .

Intercropping Workshop Videos

If you were unable to attend the January 26th workshop at the Williston Research Extension Center on “Introduction to Intercropping” or if you did attend, but would like to review any of the presentations, the workshop was recorded. Recordings of the entire workshop can be found here:  

If you haven’t already filled out their surveys, Audrey Kalil, plant pathologist at the WREC and one of the organizers of the workshop asks that you please do so.  Information from these surveys is important to them to be able to demonstrate the value of this programming and obtain funding for future research and extension efforts focused on intercropping.

Before watching the first video of the four video series, please fill out their pre-workshop survey using the link below. This will help them collect baseline data about current understanding and attitudes towards intercropping. It should only take 2-3 minutes.

NDSU Intercropping Pre-workshop Survey

After watching the last video, please fill out the post workshop survey using the link below.  This will help them determine if any understanding or attitude change occurred because of the workshop. The survey is identical to the one above, so please make sure to use the correct link.

NDSU Intercropping Post-workshop Survey

Should you have any question, please contact Audrey at the WREC at 701-774-4315.

Soil Health Resources and Hard Spring Wheat Show

Soil Health Resources – Agricultural producers who were able to participate in the Soil Health Workshop conducted on January 20th at the Williston Research Extension Center by the Williams County Soil Conservation District and NDSU Extension had an opportunity to hear Keith Berns with Green Cover Seed talk about carbon and the importance of carbon in building healthy soil.

Keith Berns, a former teacher, is a no-till farmer and co-owner of Green Cover Seed along with his brother. Green Cover Seed is headquartered in Bladen, NE, with key partners across the High Plains and Midwest. They specialize in developing and delivering cover crop seed but are also committed to educating people about soil health.

One of the resources Green Cover Seed provides as part of their commitment to educating farmers, ranchers, and others about soil health is their annual Soil Health Resource Guide. The 8th issue of this guide was recently released and is available to read, download, or order copies at no cost on their website, https://greencover.com/

A unique feature of their resource guide is that every year they invite some of the best minds in the soil health arena and regenerative agriculture movement to share their expertise and insight for the benefit of all. A few names you may recognize from this year’s guide include Ray Archuleta, North Dakota’s Jay Fuhrer, David Montgomery, Christine Jones, and Nicole Masters, just to mention a few.

Whether you want to learn more about soil health or are looking to reinforce your understanding of soil health, if you can find the time to read the articles in this guide, I think you will begin to better understand and appreciate the importance and interconnectedness of the basic principles of soil health. These basic principles are minimal soil disturbance, keeping the soil covered, keeping a living root in the soil as much as possible, maximizing diversity, and livestock integration when possible.

It is also important to know your context. Basically knowing your context is your individual situation. This could be climate, geography, resources, skills, family dynamics, goals, and any other factors that may influence you and your operation.

Carbon is one of the driving forces behind improving soil health. Carbon is the primary component of organic matter. Organic matter is vital to healthy soils and to build organic matter we need to find ways to put more carbon into the soil along with increasing microbial biomass and diversity.  A higher level of soil organic matter improves both the availability of nutrients and soil moisture for crops.

As research shows the less you till, the more carbon you keep in the soil to maintain organic matter, a good starting point to improve soil health is to minimize soil disturbance using practices such as direct seeding or no-till systems. Each time soil is tilled, it is exposed to oxygen which stimulates microbial action to decompose organic matter at an accelerated rate, releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Over time, tillage alone leads to a loss of soil carbon and depletion of organic matter.

Minimal soil disturbance is also less disruptive to soil aggregates, which are one of the key components to soil structure and health as good soil aggregation is important for moisture infiltration into the soil and in providing habitat for the soil microbes.

At the same time, practices that minimize soil disturbance tend to leave more cover on the soil surface to protect against soil erosion, reduce moisture loss due to evaporation, and help moderate soil temperatures to keep them in a more favorable range for both plant development and soil microbial activity.

An important step in getting more carbon into the soil to build organic matter is to keep a living root in the soil for as much of the growing season as possible. Research has found that living roots are the most important means of adding “new” carbon to the soil. Plants take carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil, which they transform into simple sugars through the process of photosynthesis. Plants transform these simple sugars to a number of carbon compounds including some which they leak from their roots.

These exudates from the roots are very energy-rich carbon sources that help feed the microbes in the soil. In exchange for the “liquid carbon”, the microbes in the vicinity of the plant roots help acquire nutrients and minerals for the plant. Some of the carbon that is leaked to the microbes is turned into stabilized forms of carbon called humates and glues such as glomalin, which bind soil particles together to form aggregates and enhance soil structure.

This is an over simplification of the process of regenerating soils, but should give you some insight into the interconnectedness of the soil health principles in building soil health. In essence, soil organisms build their own shelter, which are soil aggregates. Soil aggregation improves soil structure by increasing pore space which increases the soil’s ability to infiltrate and store moisture. This is beneficial to both microbes and plants. Plants spur microbial activity by capturing carbon from the atmosphere and converting them to sugars some of which they purposely exude from their roots to feed the microbes, who in term help provide the plants with nutrients, minerals, and even to some degree moisture from the soil.  

Farmers who use soil health building systems that include no-till, cover crops, and diverse species rotations have been reporting greater productivity, profitability and resiliency to weather extremes.  Not only can healthy soil help protect your farm from drought, improve production, and protect soil and water resources, it can also lower input costs – and that can lead to a healthier bottom line for your business.

69th National Hard Spring Wheat Show – Don’t forget the 2022 National Hard Spring Wheat Show which will be held this Wednesday, February 9th at the Williston Area Recreation Center.

All are invited to attend the Ag Appreciation Breakfast starting at 7:30 am. The main program begins at 9am and will feature presentations on many new and current topics relating to agriculture ranging from weather to grain markets.

From a soil health standpoint, you won’t want to miss the 3:30 pm presentation by Upendra Sainju, research scientist at the Sidney USDA Northern Plain Agriculture Research Laboratory, speaking on “Soil Carbon Storage in Wheat-Based Cropping Systems”. Dr. Saninju is renowned in developing soil and crop management practices that sequester carbon and nitrogen in the soil, reducing nitrogen fertilization needs, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and sustaining crop yields in dryland and irrigated cropping systems.

A social hour and supper will close out the day leading up to the Wheat Show’s featured speaker, Jolene Brown. She is well known for her wit and humor while addressing serious issues involved with agricultural operations.

More information on the Wheat Show and the complete program can be found at https://www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/extension/events/69th-national-hard-spring-wheat-show-williston-nd.

Ecosystem Services and Upcoming Soil Health Workshop

One of the questions producers are starting to ask is if there is money to be made with soil health, carbon sequestration, and other ecosystem services.

There is a complex relationship between humans and the environment. Humans influence the environment and the environment provides humans with benefits, such as clean air, clean water, a stable climate, productive soils, etc. The services provided to humans by the environment are commonly referred to as ecosystem services. Working lands agriculture provides numerous ecosystem services to humans and the environment

For those who would like to learn more about navigating the emerging carbon markets, NDSU Bioproducts and Bioenergy Economist David Ripplinger will be addressing the subject at the upcoming Soil Health workshop and Williams County Ag Improvement Association annual meeting on Thursday, Jan. 20 at the Williston Research Extension Center.

Even if emerging carbon markets don’t appear attractive, any time you increase soil carbon, you are also increasing soil health and you are still investing in long-term improvements that can eventually provide returns in the form of higher yields, reduced input costs and improved soil resilience.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service also recognizes that these emerging environmental markets could possibly be leveraged to help accomplish the agency’s mission of delivering conservation solutions so agricultural producers can protect natural resources and feed a growing world. While NRCS has been involved in environmental market activities since 2006, look for NRCS to offer expanded conservation program opportunities to support climate smart agriculture beginning in 2022.

NRCS’s environmental market activities are intended to support agricultural producers being compensated for providing society with the numerous ecosystem services that working land conservation practices provide. NRCS’s Working Lands Conservation Practices are entirely voluntary but are often complementary to environmental market objectives and could create a new revenue stream for farmers, ranchers, and landowners.

Those planning to participate in the Jan. 20th workshop are asked to pre-registration by Today.  To pre-register, please contact the Williams County Soil Conservation District at 701-774-2319 or the NDSU Extension Williams County office at 701-577-4595. Full details on the workshop which begins at 9:00 am can be found at https://wmscoscd.com/