Adrian Ridge Farms, Glen Haven (Grant County)
Steve Adrian and his son Adam milk 300 cows, feed 160 steers and cash crop several hundred acres. Steve began using cover crops in 1978 due to a hay shortage when he planted winter cereal rye to feed to heifers. For the past 12 years, their farm has been planting rye after silage corn. During the first three years of cover cropping, they received cost share from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Following silage corn harvest, manure (liquid dairy) is applied at 8,000-10,000 gallons per acre, and a field cultivation pass is done to incorporate the manure. The rye is seeded with a drill at 80 lb per acre. The following spring, rye is harvested for dairy and steer silage at boot stage, and soybeans are then no-till planted. No additional fertilizer is applied for the rye or soybeans. The rye typically yields 15 tons per acre with moisture of 65-68% and is stored in a silage bag.
The rye is chopped free of atmospheric moisture (dew) to better control moisture content and quality. The rye makes an excellent forage for their steer high energy and finisher rations. The dairy cows receive 3.5 lb rye per day. Rye has also been an excellent feed supplement when dry years have reduced expected forage production. Rye planted after silage corn helps reduce runoff and soil loss, helping to meet the standards of their comprehensive nutrient management plan. Steve and Adam have never seen a decreased soybean yield following rye when compared to the corn-soybean rotation acres. Adrian Ridge Farms use rye as a cover crop to protect their land and provides a high quality feed source the following spring. Their nutritionist, Danny White (White’s Feed Service in Fennimore) sees rye as a great supplemental feed source. Rye should be stored properly for best feed value and planning should include speedy harvest, which must often occur during the spring planting season, to maintain quality and avoid weather damage.
Stepflug Farms, Lancaster (Grant County)
Gary Stelpflug farms several thousand acres, raises hogs and overwinters bred dairy heifers. Gary began using cover crops in 1983 through the PIC program in which he seeded down acres with alsike clover and planted corn the following year. Gary utilizes straw for his livestock and he currently plants winter wheat and harvests the wheat for both grain and straw. Following wheat, he establishes a cover crop of winter cereal rye and radish and harvests the mix in the fall for forage, using it for heifer feed. Since the radish always winterkills and the rye overwinters, he usually terminates the rye in the spring with a burndown.
In past years, he has harvested the rye in the spring for forage and also grows his own rye for seed. He has had the rye self-seed following seed harvest and in the fall can harvest a forage crop from these fields. This year, he harvested 1.75 tons per acre from this self-seeded rye. Rye grown for seed receives additional nitrogen for optimum rye yield and from his 2 bushel seeding rate typically yields 40-60 bushels of rye. When the rye is harvested for seed, the straw is harvested as well. Gary uses oats and peas or barley plus pea mixes as an alternative to rye. Radish has been successful on Gary’s farm, and he harvests the radish for silage or lets his heifers graze on these acres. He often mixes a small amount of clover seed in his mixes for additional cover crop benefits. Gary wants to keep cover crops costs below $25 per acre. He typically has the local coop seed his cover crops when they are spreading fertilizer for the following crop with an air flow fertilizer spreader. A vertical tillage pass incorporates the seed to 1-11/2 inches. He sees many benefits to using cover crop on his farms, including the soil and environmental protection, excellent feed source and soil health benefits. His farms use a nutrient management plan, and cover crops have reduced soil loss.
Knutson Farms, Ferryville (Crawford County)
Kristopher Knutson farms nearly 1,800 acres using no-till and minimal till practices in Crawford County, and his son raises 50 steers on the farm. He started using cover crops following wheat harvest as part of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) while working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Crawford County. Currently, on his wheat acres, he uses a fertilizer spreader to put on fertilizer (potash) with oats, radish and field pea. Following the spreader application, he uses a vertical tillage tool to incorporate the seed and fertilizer.
Kristopher started using the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) cost share program to fly on cereal rye, radish and oats onto standing corn and soybeans in 2014. The EQIP cost share program in cooperation with the Crawford County Land Conservation Department has resulted in aerial seeding of cover crops on over 3,000 corn and soybean acres in Crawford County with great success. Kristopher has learned that timing is critical to cover crop success with aerial seeding. Cereal rye established well in the aerial application following soybeans when applied at the correct crop maturity. To improve cover crop and cash crop success, he uses a chopping corn head, row cleaners, and Precision Planting on both of his planters to manage residue while increasing production.
Kristopher sees many benefits in using cover crop on his land. As he moves to become more resilient and sustainable on the rolling land of Crawford County, he has begun applying small amounts of nitrogen throughout the growing season and has purchased the equipment to begin interseeding cover crops at the same time. He decided to invest in the equipment after having success with the rye and is experimenting with interseeding red clover into V5-V7 corn. Planting cover crops has allowed for improved nitrogen utilization and hopefully reduced application rates in the future. He has seen a large reduction in soil erosion, particularly with cover crops helping to absorb heavy rainfalls and prevent gully erosion on many of his acres. Terminating the cover crop early in the spring saves soil moisture and helps improve planting conditions. He is currently working to incorporate cover crops on 100% of his acres.