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Conservation Corner

Soil Health Grazing Cattle on Winter cover

Mon, December 17, 2018

#Fridays on the Farm

Grazing Cattle on Cover crops in South Dakota


https://nrcs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=f8ba610b2b2e48adb416732ae6f9fa06

An excellent article on grazing cover crops for cattle.  I am sure that one will find that deer and other wildlife will also be attracted to the cover crops.  I have seen that first hand, bucks grazing on radishes, turnips, and other varieties.


From the kitchen table to the boardroom table, USDA brings people together across the nation for: healthier food, natural resources, and people; a stronger agricultural industry; and economic growth, jobs, and innovation.


Each Friday, meet those farmers, producers, and landowners through our #FridaysOnTheFarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests, and resource areas where USDA customers and partners do right and feed everyone.


This Friday, meet Jared Namken of Namken Red Angus. Namken uses cover crops and rotational grazing to lengthen the grazing season, reduce feed costs, and build healthier soils across his 1,100-acre operation in Lake Norden, South Dakota.


Cattle and Conservation
 

“It all started with the planting of trees with our local conservation district,” Namken says.


“After the trees went in, we saw right away a big increase in the numbers and diversity of birds, insects, deer, and other wildlife species. Then came all these other management practices.”


Namken is an Angus man. Red Angus. A fourth-generation farmer-rancher, he hopes to pass on his operation to generation five, with the soil in even better shape than when he started. He’s worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to manage Namken Red Angus with that goal in mind.


Grazing Cover Crops


Namken is bettering his soil – and his bottom line – by planting cover crops.


“We try to include turnips, radishes, and a cool-season grass in the mix,” says Namken. “We once tried straight turnips, but we’ve found that the diversity of species is better for the cattle.”


To expand his grazable acres, Namken introduced rotational grazing across his cropland in 2004. More recently through USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, he was able to install above ground water lines on his operation, bringing fresh water to cattle, which greatly improves the distribution of his cattle across the landscape. This water has resulted in a better rotational grazing system that has changed the plant species growing in his pastures, complementing Namken’s goal of bringing back native grasses and forbs for improved forage.


Now, the entire farm is subject to grazing for at least part of the year.


“We can graze this ground with these cover crops most of the winter some years,” Namken says. “Depending on snow cover, temperature, wind, or cow pregnancy trimester, we might not have to supplement feed until late winter. These cattle will dig through a lot of snow to graze on our concoctions of cover crops, even in harsh winter conditions


Once the cows are out, Namken’s cropland is planted in no-till corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, or alfalfa. When asked about the collective benefits of conservation practices used across his operation – specifically no-till, cover crops, and rotational grazing – Namken has a list.


“By grazing our cover crops, we’re able to lower our feed costs while adding diversity and improving the health of our land. No-till reduces our fuel usage, which is another big benefit. Our ground is absorbing more water with less lost in runoff, and it’s more drought hardy. Rotational grazing spreads manure and nutrients evenly across our fields, which is also an economic benefit. And, moving the cows into our cropland gives our pastures a longer resting period than they had before. We ultimately see greater diversity in our summer pastures and improved soil health across our cropland fields.”


Managing for the Future

 

Though he appreciates the economic benefits of these conservation practices, Namken seems most excited about what he calls the “big picture” – the long-term health of his land and future sustainability of his operation.

 

“My kids might be the fifth generation to work this land, and I hope to pass this farm on to that next generation in better shape than when I got it,” Namken says.


“Growing up, everything was tilled. That’s just what everyone did. Practices now find us planting cover crops, as we’re making the soil more productive again. I hope we never stop learning here. There’s always a way to improve, a new idea to learn, a way to do better.”


Are you interested in building healthier, more resilient soils across your working land? Visit our new soil health page to learn about basic soil health principles for every operation.


USDA offers a variety of risk management, disaster, loan, and conservation programs to help agricultural producers in the United States invest in improvements to their operations. Learn about additional programs.


For more information about USDA services, contact your local USDA service center.

 

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Park that Plow: 5 Tips for the No- Till Curious

Wed, November 07, 2018

An excellent article by Elizabeth Creech, Natural Resources Conservation Service in Farming,  Conservation that I will share and add to for hunters and those with an interest in wildlife.  https://www.farmers.gov/media/blog/2018/11/05/park-your-plow-5-tips-no-till-curious


Reduced erosion. Saved time and fuel. Improved nutrient cycling, soil moisture, and resiliency in the face of drought. You likely already know the potential benefits of no-till.


Also keep unharvested scattered grain available on the soil surface for wildlife.


No-till farmers grow crops with minimal disturbance to their fields and the organisms that call them home. This builds healthier soils while reducing money spent on fuel and labor – a win-win.


With harvest season winding down, you’re no doubt making an important decision for your working land. Will you hook up the plow, or is this the year you’ll park it for good? If you’d like to try no-till, we wrote this for you.


Use these 5 tips to go from no-till-curious to no-till farmer.


1. Spread your residue during fall harvest.


Plowing isn’t the only way to prepare a field for next spring’s planting.


Evenly distribute residue that will be left in the field while harvesting your cash crop to manage against erosion and allow for a uniform breakdown of nutrients and organic matter. Residue can provide a valuable base of cover for your ground over winter.


2. Don’t forget about cover crops.


Farmers traditionally till to break up soil and prepare seedbeds. Over time, tillage can degrade structure and create highly compacted soils that seemingly “need” to be tilled before spring planting.


Plant cool-season cover crops to reduce compaction, build organic matter, and hold your soil in place. Make sure to pick a cover crop species or mix that compliments your cash crop.


If you’re starting with a highly-compacted field, use cover crop species that are meant to break up compaction. Daikon radish is often one great option.


Daikon radish – commonly called tillage radish – can break up plow pans while adding organic matter. 


For those interested in attracting wildlife to their farms, oats, radishes, turnips can be used as an attractant food source for deer and other wildlife. 


3. Choose equipment with your end-goal in mind.


Simple but critical: Plan before you buy.


Will you plant next year’s cash crop into green cover, terminated cover, or fall residue? Will you drill or broadcast your seeds?


Your operation may change over time, but establishing working goals now will keep you from buying equipment you don’t ultimately want.


Some USDA service centers have no-till drills and other equipment you can rent for minimal fees to get started. All offices are staffed with experts who’d be happy to talk through your specific management goals.


Think about how you’ll terminate your cover and plant your cash crop next spring. Using a roller crimper with a no-till drill is just one option.


4. Treat no-till adoption as a marathon, not a sprint. Track results along the way.


Building healthy, resilient soil takes time. Some farmers report yield increases after their first year of no-till, but that shouldn’t be your main goal.


You can quantify several economic benefits of switching to no-till: fuel savings, time savings, eventual fertilizer reductions. By tracking these measures along with changes in yield, you’ll gain a truer sense of the impact of no-till across your operation.


Have your soil tested at least once every four years and conduct your own informal assessments regularly. Healthy soils are full of living organisms.

Take note of the life inside of your soil, and how it changes over time. Healthy soils are generally full of earthworms and other organisms.


5. Give us a visit. We’re here to help.


Stop by your local service center to learn more about integrating no-till and other conservation practices into your management plan. We’re here to help you reach conservation goals that support your farm’s production needs.  Inquire about financial assistance available under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program EQIP and Conservation Stewardship Program to help with nutrient management, cover crops, no till strip till.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cover Crops and Soil Moisture

Mon, November 05, 2018

No cropping system is drought proof, but there are ways to prepare for a dry year.


Watch this Science of Soil Health video to learn how cover crops affect soil moisture for the next year’s cash crop.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohX1jIlH_kI&feature=youtu.be


Cover crops such as turnips can attract wildlife such as deer.  My brother just informed me that the deer have destroyed all the turnips he planted at his farm. 

 

 

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