Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Missouri No-tiller's Quest

Source: No-Till Farmer, April 2011
By Martha Mintz, Contributing Editor

SOME DIG DEEP to identify the yield robbers on their farms. Jules Willott only
had to dig 3 inches.

After years of letting his fertilizer rep take his soil samples, the Mexico, Mo.,no-tiller decided to do the job himself. What he discovered as he dug his soil samples was a shallow compaction layer.

"There was good, loose soil for 3 inches, then a 1.5-inch layer that was hard and then good soil below that," Willott observed. "Our roots were getting through, but I think it must have slowed them down a little."

The 15-year no-till veteran wasn't convinced it was compacted enough to hurt yields on his soybean, wheat, clover and milo crops, but it was on his mind. When bad weather kept him from planting a crop in 2009, he decided to seize the opportunity to experiment with some compactionalleviating cover crops.

Montgomery City, Mo., regional extension specialist Richard Hoormann was more
than happy to help. He'd been looking for opportunities to see how cover crops that
had been successful in other regions would perform locally.

Together, they broadcast-seeded two timings of nine different cover crops on Willott's challenging claypan soils. Wheat, purple-top turnips, oil radishes; tillage radishes, annual ryegrass, Austrian winter peas, rape and other turnip varieties were planted in 22-by-125-foot plots.

Diverse Benefits

The cover crops were planted from August through October. They grew, winter killed and then Willott no-till grow deeper.

"They may also work to scavenge some nitrogen and phosphate from deeper in the
soil profile." Willott hopes these benefits can boost soybean yields. Milo and wheat are more profitable for Willott, but he drilled soybeans into the plots in spring of 2010.

Wet conditions in the fall of 2009 meant the later September and October seedings didn't emerge well. But the August-seeded covers grew well and showed several benefits.

"The radishes provided some weed suppression, which I didn't expect," Willott recalls. "In the spring of 2010, there were absolutely no weeds where the radishes had been used as a cover crop."

Hoormann noted that across the plots there was a lot of cheatgrass, Japanese brome and a variety of broadleaf winter annuals.

But the plots where tillage radishes, oil radishes or purple-top turnip were planted were virtually weed-free in early spring. He credits this largely to their broad rosette canopies blocking weed-seed germination.

"This would be a great benefit for those who want to use cover crops but want to do an early planting in the spring," Hoormann says. "They would be able to plant early without having to worry about burndown for a cover crop or weeds."

There were no weeds, but the radishes and turnips did leave 2- to 3-inch-diameter holes that extended through Willott' s shallow compaction layer.

"I'm definitely considering working them into my rotation and they should fit easily behind my wheat crop," he says. "It looks like they will be able to loosen up that compaction layer and serve as a channel to help guide the roots of my other crops to grow deeper.

"They may also work to scavenge some nitrogen and phosphate from deeper in the
soil profile."

Willott hopes these benefits can boost soybean yields. Milo and wheat are more profitable for
Willott, but he must keep soybeans in the rotation due to the allelopathic effect milo has on wheat. If they're going to stay, he wants to push them out of the 30-to-40- bushel yield range and into the 50-to-60- bushel yield range.

His cover-crop experiment may have put him on the right path. Besides compaction alleviation and weed suppression, soybean harvest brought another pleasant surprise
from the cover-crop plots.

"The yield monitor was bouncing around all over the place when I harvested," Willott
says. "Yields were higher in the cover-crop plots, especially where we planted the tillage radishes."

In four replications of the August timing, tillage radishes were shown to increase soybean yields by 3.5 bushels per acre. It isn't conclusive data, but it's a step in the right direction.

Willott volunteered his acres for another round of cover-crop plots last fall. Several other area producers are joining in, too, as part of a larger project to expand cover-crop
usage and education in Missouri.

Cover crops are already gaining strong interest from extension and producers. Willott's cover crop plots drew about 35 visitors during a 2010 field day despite heavy rains - a credit, Hoormann says, to the growing interest in cover crops in Missouri.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Students Learn about Sustainable Agriculture in Worthington, MN

Source: Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — Students in Worthington High School’s Ag 10 and Floriculture classes received a challenge Monday morning — to find a way to feed a growing world population with finite resources, and do so in a manner that protects the land and sustains it for generations to come.

Sustainability is a buzz word in today’s world of agriculture, and Monday marked the first class in a three-year project to get today’s youths thinking about tomorrow’s global food and fiber needs. Rolf Mahlberg, former WHS and Minnesota West Community and Technical College ag instructor, and Dan Livdahl, Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator, are leading the project locally, thanks to a Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education (SARE) grant. The two, along with Minnesota West ag teacher Jeff Rogers, recently completed training provided by the University of Minnesota’s Southwest Research and Outreach Center.

“Our goal is to say your generation needs to figure out how agriculture can stay sustainable,” said Mahlberg. Recent events in Japan that have led to elevated radioactivity in food and soil have highlighted further the need to protect lands used for production agriculture.

Mahlberg said students today need to be problem solvers for the demands that will be placed on agriculture production in the future. From 1900 to 2011, the world population grew from 1 billion to nearly 7 billion people.

By 2050, the population is expected to reach 10.5 billion people. At the same time, the amount of available land for production agriculture will stay the same. That means farmers need to find ways to get more production from the land without destroying it for future generations.

“We have to produce food in a sustainable fashion so that the people that will follow us on this planet have the same opportunities to feed this world that we had when we inherited it,” Mahlberg said.

On Monday, he and Livdahl took the first step in explaining sustainability by having students create a crop residue measuring tape. Students attached beads at one-foot intervals along a 53-foot-long cord, which will be used during a visit to the Mahlberg farm later this spring. There, they will stretch the measuring tape out across the grain of the field and calculate the amount of residue present based on the number of beads that come in contact with it. A field with a minimum of 30 percent residue present is considered a sustainable ag practice, Mahlberg said.

Why is sustainability important on agricultural land?

“When raindrops strike exposed soil, they will break the structure up and allow that particle to become mobile and flow with water,” Mahlberg said. “If rain hits the residue, the destructive force of that raindrop is absorbed by the residue. More residue means more erosion control.”

More erosion control leads to less soil loss and improved productivity.

“We don’t want farmers to sacrifice a bunch of income,” Mahlberg said. “We want them to think in terms of sustainability and production. We need to grow food.

“This world is ours for today, but it isn’t ours to use up,” he added. “It’s ours to be supportive of.”

Sustainability is not destroying the planet while trying to grow large crops to feed the world.

“Whatever we do has to be economical — it has to be good for the people that do it,” added Livdahl. “Our population is growing quickest in the countries with the least resources. Food and fiber will be needed to meet people’s basic needs.”

Livdahl said as a growing world demands more, non-renewable resources will be more expensive, like gasoline and fertilizers.

“We are 5 percent of the world population and we use 25 percent of the resources,” he said.

Students of today are needed to become the scientists of tomorrow — to answer the tough questions about sustainable agriculture, from food production to converting grain into energy, Mahlberg added.

Mahlberg and Livdahl will meet with WHS students again today as they plant corn in soils containing varying fertility rates. Throughout the remainder of the quarter, students will monitor plant progress and record data on nutrient management for use in proving or disproving a hypothesis.

Students will also take a field trip to Mahlberg’s farm to measure crop residue this spring, and summer field trips are planned as well.

Mahlberg and Livdahl plan to lead classes on sustainability at Round Lake High School this spring as well.

“I want every student that I can get a hold of exposed to the subject,” Mahlberg said.

Midwest Aronia Association to Hold 1st Annual Conference

Source: Vinton Today

By Pattie Upmeyer, Benton County Extension

Midwest Aronia Association will hold their 1st Annual Conference, bringing together the largest gathering of aronia pioneer, growers, and producers in the United States, on April 8th & 9th, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Featuring speakers from the US and Poland, information will be presented on the science, growing, and marketing of the aronia berry. Recent research into the nutritional and healthful value of aronia melanocarpa indicates high levels of antioxidants, prompting regional, national, and world-wide interest in cultivation and consumption of the aronia berry.

The impressive line up of speakers includes Dr. Stanislaw Pluta, an Associate Professor at the Research Institute of Pomology and Floriculture in Poland who has been involved in fruit plant breeding at the institute since 1985 and has had extensive research work and educational experiences throughout a number of countries.

The MAA is pleased to introduce Dr. Pluta as the keynote speaker, and also welcomes Maury Wills, Bureau Chief of the Agriculture Diversification and Market Development Bureau of IDALS; Doug Stryuk, legal council and policy advisor to the Iowa Secretary of State; Dr. Jonathon Smith, PhD, founder/co-owner of Wisconsin-based Alpine Foods, a company that processes value-added fruits; Harlan Hamernick of Clarkson, NE, founder/past owner of Bluebird Nursery, Inc. and current owner of Wild Plums, a nursery specializing in rare and unusual woodies and the propogation of 'Superberries'; Andy Larson, ISU Extension Specialist in Small Farm Sustainability and coordinator for the Iowa SARE Professional Development Program; Joanna Skorzynska, co-owner of Firma Weremczuk, a Polish company that manufactures aronia berry harvesters used in Poland and other EU countries; and Tatania Emmick, Associate Scientist, and Jiang Hu, Regulatory Affairs, from Kemin Ind.

This event, open to MAA members and the public, is co-sponsored by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Mark your calendars for this rare and exciting educational and networking experience regarding the aronia berry. For more information, or to register for this limited seating event, please visit

Food to Market Workshop Rescheduled

Source: Hot Springs Star

HOT SPRINGS - A workshop for entrepreneurs interested in marketing food products will be held March 28 in Hot Springs. This session was rescheduled from Feb. 25 due to weather. The day-long workshop is sponsored by the South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service, and costs include lunch and materials. Scholarships are available to Horizons communities and through SARE.

Registration for the day begins at 9 a.m. at Canyon Cottage on the grounds of the State Veterans Home in Hot Springs. It will conclude by 4:30 p.m. To register for a lunch count, please call the Fall River County Extension Office at 745-5133.

The workshops are designed for people who plan to sell foods they have made at home, producers interested in marketing meat products, and growers thinking of expanding sales of food products. Topics will include food-safety in production and handling, SD regulations for sales, product labeling, Farmers Market and direct sales, researching market trends, and building a marketing plan. The end of the day will feature SD resource providers offering their assistance in small group sessions.

Extension Food Safety Specialist Joan Hegerfeld-Baker said Extension staff at the workshops can explain the new state laws and make sure sellers are on the proper path to earn money from products they made or grew at home.

Conservation Program Offered for Boone County Women Farmland Owners

Lynn Heuss, 515-201-9405,
Leigh Adcock, 515-460-2477,


BOONE—Women who own or manage farmland in Boone and neighboring counties are invited to participate in a free conservation discussion and field tour on Thursday, April 14, from 8:30 – 3:30 p.m. at the Iowa Arboretum near Madrid. The program is called Women Caring for the Land.

Women own or co-own 47% of Iowa’s farmland, and often express strong conservation values in meetings and surveys. However, many are unsure of exactly how to reach their conservation goals and what resources are available to help them. Women Caring for the Land offers a peer-to-peer, informal discussion format to allow women landowners to talk about their individual land stewardship goals, facilitated by women conservation experts who can share resources available such as USDA cost-share programs, state loans, and other tools.

All interested women are welcome, including owners, operators and inheritors of farmland, regardless of their degree of knowledge about conservation. A free lunch will be provided. In order for us to get an accurate meal count, please RSVP by Monday, April 11, by calling Lynn Heuss at 515-201-9405 or emailing her at

The program begins with registration and coffee at 8:30 a.m. at The Iowa Arboretum, 1875 Peach Ave., Madrid. The discussion will begin at 9 a.m., and will include a segment on protecting, rescuing and restoring land so it is able to sustain wildflowers, grasses and trees for habitat and beauty. Discussion leader for this topic will be Danielle Wirth, who has worked as a park ranger, an environmental educator, a volunteer restoring prairies and woodlands, and has designed and taught these techniques to students at Drake University and Des Moines Area Community College. Danielle is also certified as a Wildlands Firefighter II. Other topics of conversation for the day may include management of pasture and timberlands, prairie and pond restoration, alternative cropping options, using leases to manage conservation with tenants, and others according to the interests of the participants.

After lunch, participants will have a chance to talk in more detail in small groups about their particular areas of interest. A field tour of nearby prairie and savanna restoration sites will be offered in the afternoon. The meeting will end at the Arboretum with a wrap-up and dessert around 3:30 p.m.

This session of Women Caring for the Land is sponsored by Women, Food and Agriculture Network in partnership with the Boone Soil and Water Conservation District, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship - Division of Soil Conservation, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The series is funded by a grant from the USDA’s North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.

Learn more about WFAN on the web:


For more information on this NCR-SARE Research and Education Grant program project, visit the SARE reporting site at

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NCR-SARE Announces 2011 Call for PDP Preproposals

The 2011 North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program’s (NCR-SARE) Professional Development Program Call for Preproposals is now available online at

NCR-SARE's Professional Development Program (PDP) provides funds for professional development projects that provide sustainable agriculture training to agricultural professionals and educators in the Cooperative Extension Service (CES), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), other governmental agencies, and educators in the profit and non-profit sector serving the food and fiber system.

Projects can be up to three years in duration, and funding level is capped at $75,000 for each project, but projects requesting less than full amount are encouraged. Approximately $365,000 will be available for funding projects.

Any questions regarding the North Central SARE PDP program should be addressed to PDP Regional Coordinator, Dr. Rob Myers at 573-882-1547 or

The deadline for preproposals is 4:30 pm CDT on Wednesday, May 18, 2011.

Cover Your Cover Crops: A Guide

A Guide to Which Programs are Most Likely to Partially Reimburse You for Cover Cropping

Source: Corn & Soybean Digest

Need help with cover-crop expenses? It’s available through a virtual smorgasbord of government and state programs.

The alphabet of programs – EQIP, CSP, SARE, MRBI, GLRI and more – offer qualifying growers $20-50 or more/acre in assistance. They are available through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and some state entities and are especially a hit on no-till and strip-till operations. (Program descriptions and application instructions are available at the NRCS website:

Brothers Keith and Brian Berns, Bladen, NE, use cover crops in their corn, soybean and wheat rotation and depend on a CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) contract to make it happen. They also operate Green Cover Seed Co.

“We saw three times as much interest in cover crops this year over last,” says Keith Berns. “A lot of guys are working off a CSP program checklist. It’s a good program.” The Berns follow their winter wheat with “a mix of grasses, legumes and other components” to help increase the biological life of the soil until corn is planted. The result is less moisture and soil loss in winter and a stronger start for corn.

Many cover crops are planted after fall crops, a timing situation that causes many to forego the process, according to a survey last year by Corn & Soybean Digest (see, Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), West Lafayette, IN.

But the value of cover crops in preserving precious water and soil while enhancing nutrients can’t be challenged. It’s causing more growers to use them and seek financial assistance to help cover the cost, says Bill Kuenstler, NRCS conservation agronomist, Central National Technology Support Center, Fort Worth, TX.

Adds CTIC’s Karen Scanlon, “I think assistance is one way to increase their adoption. With the right financial and technical help, growers will select the best cover crops for their operation and know how to adapt their management to maximize the benefits of cover crops.”

EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) is popular for growers without a full-fledged NRCS conservation program. In Iowa, for example, growers in 2010 could receive up to $60/acre for planting winter-hardy species like cereal rye or winter wheat. Up to $41 or more was available for non-winter-hardy, such as oats and spring wheat. For a living mulch, such as common vetch, about $56/acre was available.

“EQIP and related initiatives such as GLRI, Agriculture Water Efficiency Program (AWEP), or Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI) are popular in Indiana and other states,” says Barry Fisher, NRCS Indiana state agronomist, pointing out that cover crops could receive priority over other practices when assistance funding is considered.

Kuenstler says most growers should be eligible for EQIP, since it helps address soil erosion and quality, nutrient and pest management problems.

“CSP, on the other hand, is aimed at producers already doing a pretty good job of managing resource problems and want to do an even better job. So a producer who has erosion and nutrient-management concerns under control, but wants to improve soil quality, would qualify for the enhancements that include cover crops.”

Fisher encourages growers to take advantage Conservation Cropping System workshops and other programs in Indiana and elsewhere. Information on applying for EQIP and other programs is available online, as well as cover-crop management tips.

“While there, check with the local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) to see if it or any of its partners offer any assistance through a special watershed project or a water-quality grant,” he says. “Many SWCDs have cover-crop funds to offer.”

Fisher says other assistance is available through Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG). Under CIG, EQIP funds are used to award competitive grants to non-federal governmental or non-governmental organizations, tribes or individuals.

Keith Berns says the cost of a typical cover-crop seed is $20-30/acre, so EQIP, CSP and other funding can help cover much of the cost. His family company ( has a cover-crop calculator to help determine a program’s cost. Indiana and other state NRCS offices also offer cost calculators.

Funding for 2011 NRCS programs should be available, says Fisher, but could tighten as the year progresses. Also, the popularity of cover crops may cause seed shortages, particularly for higher quality seed varieties, he adds. “Do your homework on best varieties for your area and talk to your seed dealers early. Be cautious of cheap VNS (variety not stated) seed.”

Even if funds aren’t available, consider that many cover crops can scavenge 50-70 lbs. of nitrogen that would otherwise be lost through leaching or denitrification.

“Cover crops will also break up compaction, build organic matter and reduce soil erosion, all of which lead to healthier, more productive soil,” he says.


Keith Berns was a 2007 NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant recipient. To read more about Berns' project, visit the SARE project reporting site at