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Use cover crops to set stage for next year

The 2012 season proved that the weather must cooperate to give modern technology a chance. Next year will be different. Hopefully, you can resume your pursuit for higher corn yields.

One step to prepare for better yields in 2013 is to assess what you have in the field after 2012 and plan accordingly. Barry Fisher, an agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, says nutrients were left behind where crop yields were low, especially nitrogen. Whether or not N is there next year will depend on rain and temperatures over winter.

Give yourself an edge by establishing cover crops, Fisher says. Seeding dates are critical, so you may want to focus on it sooner rather than later.

Key Points

Test post-drought soils to determine actual nutrient levels.

Cover crops help hold nutrients for use by next year’s crop.

Soils tend to loosen after cover crops root deeply in spring.

“Cover crops can tie up nutrients, especially nitrogen, and keep them from leaving the field,” he says. “Once you get a cover crop established, you also benefit from deeper rooting that loosens the soil.”

Depending on whether your county qualifies for disaster programs, you may be eligible for cost-sharing for establishing cover crops through the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program. USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a special allocation of funds recently. Check with your local NRCS office.

Cover crops work

The best way to determine if cover crops help is to try it for yourself. Mark Lawson, an agronomist for Syngenta, established a field-scale plot on his own farm last fall. He has average, somewhat rolling soils. He left half of the field bare after soybeans and seeded cover crops into the other half.

Lawson seeded Oregon annual ryegrass, field peas and crimson clover. Ryegrass does its work in the spring, rooting as deep as 30 inches. Fisher says roots help break up the soil. Some believe they also loosen the soil so that water can soak in more easily. Killing cover crops that include annual ryegrass can be part art and part science.

Experts in cover crop management say it’s doable, but you must pay attention to spraying details. Those include not spraying after early afternoon. The ryegrass plants need time to soak in herbicide before they shut down due to cooler late-afternoon and early-evening temperatures in the spring.


Pursuit Farmers tackle high-yield challenge

As part of the Pursuit of 300 program, six farmers from across the Corn Belt are teaming with The Mosaic Company to set aside 100 acres to explore new technologies and programs to boost yields. We’ll be following those farmers in the coming months, and here’s a quick look at each of their operations.

James Schoff

Schoff Farms, Walnut, Ill.

Fifth-generation farming operation
2,700 acres
3,000 custom-farming acres
Retail partner: Ag View FS

Four Schoff partners are invested in the operation today: James, father Ray, and cousins Bill and Ron Schoff. The Schoffs plant a corn-corn-soybean rotation across 2,700 acres in Bureau County.

10125610-HUDSON.tif Curt Hudson

Hudson Family Farms, Crawfordsville, Ind.

Fifth-generation family farm
2,600 acres
Retail partner: Crop Production Services

Curt Hudson and son Christopher farm about 2,600 acres near Crawfordsville. The Hudsons use the latest technology and innovative farm management practices to build both their yield and the size of their farm for the future.

10125610-LAUNSTEIN.tif Dale Launstein

Launstein Farms, Holland, Iowa

Third-generation farmer
3,000 acres
Wean-to-finish hog operation

Retail partner: Heartland Co-opThe Launstein Farm, operating in Grundy and Hardin counties, predominantly plants a corn-on-corn rotation across 3,000 acres. Dale Launstein runs his operation with his brother, John, and their father, Ray, along with the most recent addition to their farm, Nick Griffieon, the Launstein Farms’ agronomist.

10125610-BAALMAN.tif Mitchell Baalman

FDK Partnership, Hoxie, Kan.

Third-generation farmer
12,000 acres sunflowers
Retail partner: Crop Production Services

FDK Partnership, formerly Baalman and
Sons, is a 12,000-acre farmstead in Rexford, Kan. Operated by Mitchell Baalman, FDK is comprised of 3,000 acres of irrigated corn and soybeans, and 9,000 acres of dryland wheat, corn and soybeans.

10125610-LANTZ.tif Matt Lantz

Lantz Farms, Lake Crystal, Minn.

Farmstead established in 1963
2,800 corn acres
Independent farrow-to-finish operation
Retail partner: Crystal Valley Co-op

Matt Lantz runs his 2,800-acre corn operation out of Lake Crystal. In 2012, Lantz and his brother Luke began running an independent farrow-to-finish operation with approximately 2,400 sows.

10125610-PRINZ.tif Todd Prinz

Prinz Farm and Feedlot, West Point, Neb.

Third-generation farmer
2,000 acres
4,000-head feedlot
Retail partner: Central Valley Ag

Todd Prinz and father Joe run a corn and soybean operation in its third generation in West Point. The Prinzes farm more than 2,000 acres, in addition to operating a 4,000-head feedlot.


This series is independently produced by Farm Progress and brought to you through the support of The Mosaic Company.
For more information, visit www.Pursuitof300.com.


Here’s what Lawson discovered when he dug a pit where cover crops grew during the winter and early spring. Notice the depth of rooting. Photo courtesy Mark Lawson


Mark Lawson decided to study the effects of cover crops.He seeded half the field to covers and left the other half bare.Photo courtesy Mark Lawson