Lower Fox Demonstration Farm Network field day success: tips on cover crops, drought proofing, and more
The Lower Fox River Watershed, just south of Green Bay, is home to a network of farms that demonstrate the best, leading-edge conservation practices to reduce phosphorus entering Green Bay and Lake Michigan to improve Great Lakes water quality. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) partnered to establish a Great Lakes Demonstration Farm Network. Other key partners include the Brown County Land & Water Conservation Department and Outagamie County Land Conservation Department. The Network hosted a successful Field Day and Open House, June 15, 2016. Over 55 farmers, landowners, and partners were in attendance.
The Network is working to provide better information on the effectiveness of conservation systems used to improve water quality, while also providing educational technology transfer opportunities, like the successful field day, for the public. Field day participants learned about conservation practices being used on the demo farms, to improve both soil health and water quality.
Scott Theunis, of Tinedale Farm, was graciously, the day’s host farm, highlighting his dairy operation, multi-species cover crops, and various interseeding approaches. Participants visited a Tinedale field with raddish and clover cover crop and standing corn. Participants also viewed a Wiese Brothers Farm no-till corn field into multi-species cover crop that had been planted the previous year, after winter wheat, with a portion of the field left conventionally tilled to see any field differences. Differences in field data will be recorded as an ongoing experiment. The adjacent field was planted with corn and a cover crop mix of radish and clover, and urea. “We’re seeing how a multi-species cover crop works to add organic matter in the soil, with corn, and if it increases water infiltration,” said Brent Peterson, Brown County Demo Farm Project Manager. “This is an example of the commitment these demo farms are making; trying something out of the box and learning from trials to help other farmers, and figuring out what works,” said Barry Bubolz, NRCS District Conservationist and Area GLRI Coordinator.
Dan Brick, of Brickstead Dairy, highlighted manure application, cover crop plots with spring forage tonnage and an edge-of-field-monitoring station. Participants viewed a manure surface application unit, which applies manure a few inches above the ground. Ten thousand gallons of manure were applied after corn was planted. Field day participants could not find any existing evidence of the application. “The advantage of the unit is we are not disturbing any of the soil in this application; over time, we’re depending upon the infiltration to increase in these soils as we continue cover crop use; on Dan’s application, it turned out really well; the odor also gets knocked down because we’re not broadcasting it all over the place,” said Peterson.
Participants also visited a soybean field with cover crop residue. “Last fall, I planted 110 pounds per acre of winter rye on this field; I applied 15,000 gallons of manure, took the cover crop off this spring, and then planted soybeans, because last year we did corn. This is a tough piece of ground, but we’re working on the soil health and organic matter,” said Brick. The winter rye rooting structure holds the soil together and gives it a cottage cheese, granular structure, instead of large chucks. “The cover crop roots are actively breaking up the soil to help with drainage concerns in the field, so water can better infiltrate,” said Bubolz. Peterson recommends planting cover crops at an angle if you use no-till on your fields. “When you run a planter, you cross over the cover crop lines instead of running right down the rows. Cutting across the grain of the cover crop helps with emergence,” said Peterson.
A forged winter triticale field, a cross between winter wheat and rye, was visited next. The field produced 3.16 tons of dry matter at 12% crude protein; a very digestible feed, planned for Brickstead’s dairy cows. “The winter triticale vegetation and root mass adds organic matter,” said Bubolz. While presenting, Bubolz dug up a soil sample from the field and showed the healthy soil had tons of earthworms and a dense root network, which he says helps with water infiltration and also helps surface applied manure infiltrate into the ground.
Participants also had the opportunity to see runoff from the morning rain entering an edge-of-field monitoring station on Dan’s property. Edge-of-field monitoring is an effort to help farmers improve and verify the effectiveness of agricultural conservation practices and systems installed on their farm. Monitoring equipment is installed at the edge of a field and the quality of water draining from the field is tested year-round over a period of four years. “We get asked all the time, you help farmers put in acres of cover crop, install grassed waterways, and help farmers do no-till; what are the outcomes and what does that do? This monitoring station is going to help answer that. We’re not using data from other states and areas, this data comes right from this watershed; so, when we work with a producer and say to implement these conservation practices, you can cut your phosphorus loses by X, you can reduce your nitrogen by Y, and you can control your sediment by a certain level,” said Tom Krapf, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist. “We can show how producer’s investments pay off, in putting conservation practices on the ground. This shows the general public how producers are connected and how we’re helping farmers improve area water quality.”
Kevin Collins, and his daughter Brittany, of Collins Dairy, highlighted, raising heifers on managed rotational pasture, pasture layouts and management. Brittany demonstrated moving heifers from one paddock to another. “This was an opportunity to use areas not able to be cropped as well as cropland near our buildings; it helps with space and also gives the heifers an opportunity to graze out on land. It’s good for their feet, legs and body condition,” said Brittany. “Every time you can take forage off, with a heifer, you are saving money in the long run,” said Adam Abel, NRCS District Conservationist. “By managing our land, we can let the animals harvest it, instead of us,” said Kevin. Rotational grazing also leaves cover for other beneficial wildlife, like honey bees and upland birds. The Collins are experimenting with no-till and different varieties of cover crops also.
UW-Extension also partnered at the event and presented on the importance of soil health, how to test for it, and the benefits. “No-till really shines in all our data when it comes to available water capacity; that means drought proofing and resilience; more water is stored in no-till soil; it will sustain the crop longer when July comes, and we don’t get rain for 3 weeks. If you can get more water held in the soil profile, you’ll get a much better crop,” said Jamie Patton, UW-Extension Agriculture Agent.
The afternoon featured a stop at Van Wychen Farms to view two different equipment demonstrations. Matt Van Wychen provided a demonstration of an implement that was put together in their shop this past winter to allow interseeding of cover crops at the same time as applying side dress nitrogen with standing corn. Participants were able to view an adjacent field where young clover seedlings were sprouting between corn rows, an early start of this upcoming fall’s cover crop. The final demonstration showcased a corn planter with 13 different combinations of closing wheels to allow participants to evaluate how effective corn is planted in a no-till situation with heavy residue.
The Lower Fox Demonstration Farm Network is partnering to offer farmers conservation advice and tips. Visit www.wi.nrcs.usda.gov/ to learn more about soil health, water quality and the technical and financial assistance available through NRCS. If you are interested in attending a future Demonstration Farm Field Day, visit https://www.glc.org/projects/water-quality/foxdemo/ to learn more.