On-Farm Research: Last week a team of us did a series of meetings throughout the State regarding on-farm research updates. It’s always great to have the farmers presenting their research and adding in additional details that we didn’t have when the results booklet was published! Two more meetings continue in western Nebraska this week.
Perhaps my biggest reason for strongly promoting on-farm research is because there often is no better way to obtain answers to some of the questions you all have. These types of studies are often difficult to obtain funding (or can take months to obtain funding, resulting in a lost window of opportunity) and by conducting this research on your farms, we obtain the answers for your specific situations. Sometimes challenges such as storm damage also become opportunities to answer a question via on-farm research. Growers tend to appreciate research conducted on other growers’ farms when we share this research at various meetings, field days, and in articles. A variety of topics are researched every year including nutrient management, various products, row spacing, and new technologies including multi-hybrid planters, use of drone sensors, etc.
In this week’s UNL CropWatch at http://cropwatch.unl.edu, three on-farm research cooperators are featured. One of these is Ken Herz along with sons Zach and Aaron in the Lawrence, NE area as first-time cooperators. Ken approached me with several questions the winter of 2015. As growers with a non-irrigated, no-till wheat/corn/soybean rotation and a cattle operation, his family was curious about the impacts of grazing cover crops for cattle gains and improving soil organic matter. They were also curious about the trade-offs of the cover crop vs. any soil moisture loss or impact on the successive corn yield. They also wanted this study to be something that would be applicable to what farmers in this area did and something they could all learn from together. Thus, it was decided to not plant cover crops into the corn or soybean residue as that isn’t common and this would need to be a long-term study. Dr. Mary Drewnoski and I met with the Herz family to develop a plan for this study. Also thankful for Dr. Suat Irmak for his help in providing additional soil moisture equipment and advice I needed, to the Little Blue NRD in partnering with reduced cost of soil moisture equipment and also for the partnership of Green Cover Seed.
In 2016-2017, this study evaluated four treatments on the effects of successive corn yield: 1-ungrazed wheat stubble 2-grazed wheat stubble 3-ungrazed cover crop 4-grazed cover crop. Wheat was harvested July of 2016 and a five-species cover crop mix of spring triticale, winter peas, oats, collards, and purple top turnips was planted August 14, 2016 (they wanted a mix that would winter-kill). The cover crop received moisture within a week of planting that allowed for germination. Some additional fall moisture allowed for good growth and cover crop biomass was measured (3401 lb/ac) prior to grazing 28 (1100 lb) first-calf heifers for 22 days resulting in the cover crop carrying 2.4 animal unit months (AUM)/ac. The goal was not to graze too heavy to allow for ground cover and any long-term soil improvements, thus 2177 lb/ac of biomass was present post-grazing. Soil moisture was monitored from after cover crop planting through corn harvest. The soil was so dry after wheat harvest prior to planting the cover crop that it took using a drill to install the second and third foot moisture sensors. Beginning soil health parameters were also taken to be compared long-term in this study.
Corn was planted May 15, 2017. Prior to planting the corn, the soil moisture where the grazed and ungrazed cover crop plots were located were at 35% depletion (top three feet) compared to at field capacity (full soil moisture profile) in the grazed and ungrazed wheat stubble plots. Eight inches of rain in May evened out the soil profile allowing all plots to be at a full profile (top four feet) at the beginning of the corn growing season. As the season progressed, the grazing treatments started separating out from the ungrazed treatments from July through end of the season. I don’t know how to explain that yet.
Corn was harvested the Thursday of the major wind event with a calibrated grain wagon. Yields were not statistically different and were 218 bu/ac, 211 bu/ac, and 213 bu/ac for the ungrazed wheat stubble, grazed cover crop, and ungrazed cover crop respectively. The grazed wheat stubble treatment yielded 212 bu/ac but only had two reps at the end of the growing season so was not included in the statistical analysis. Economically, grazing the cover crop was as competitive as the ungrazed wheat stubble treatment when it came to ensuing corn yields and the spring rains made all the difference in beginning soil moisture. Because of the crop rotation, there wasn’t an opportunity to add a cover crop in this field Fall 2017. The Herz’ feel they lost an opportunity as environmental conditions vary so much every year, and this year, cover crops didn’t have as much growth in area fields. Thus, they’ve chosen to dedicate three fields to this study topic in the future, allowing for one of the fields each year to have wheat/cover crop/grazing to account for environmental variation. Continuing this for the next 5-7 years will better answer their questions while benefiting all of us with what is learned. Perhaps other growers are interested in some variation of this study for your farms?
Most studies are not this in depth and this is just one example of how growers are answering questions they have for themselves via on-farm research. It can take extra time at planting, harvest or other times of the season depending on the study. I believe most growers I’ve worked with would say the effort has been worth it to scientifically answer their questions for themselves. Truly am grateful for all of you I’ve had the opportunity to work with via on-farm research! So, if you’re thinking about a question you’d like to answer on your farm this year, consider reaching out to me or your local Extension educator and we’d be happy to talk with you now about how to set up your study. It is important to talk this through, especially if this is your first time conducting research. If you’d like to learn more about on-farm research, view some protocols, or view results from previous studies, please check out our website at http://cropwatch.unl.edu/farmresearch.
Bake and Take Month: March is Bake & Take month, a time when wheat organizations encourage others to bake a wheat good and share it with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and shut-ins. In honor of the month, the Nebraska Wheat Board (NWB) is again sponsoring recipe cards and stickers for any 4-H groups or other organizations that wish to participate. This year’s recipes are mini dessert tacos and crockpot cherry chocolate lava cake. Those interested in participating or who have questions can contact the NWB office at (402) 471-2358 or email@example.com. There is no cost for the supplies, and no limit on the number that can be requested. Those wishing to preview the recipes before requesting materials can find them listed at http://wheat.nebraska.gov starting March 1.
York County Fair Volunteers: Gary Zoubek asked me to mention he’s looking for a few volunteers that could help with 4-H and Open Class primarily on entry and judging day in Ag Hall on July 31 and August 1st. If you’re interested, please contact Gary at 402-326-8185 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.