Cover crops, no-till and manure

MSU Extension research follows real world conditions in Calhoun County

The cover crop plots at Blight Farms are an ongoing project that brings research from Michigan State University out to be demonstrated in real-world conditions, and also provided an opportunity for producers to watch their progress. Ken Blight, one of the owners of the farm where the demonstration took place, says he favors the no-till systems but it makes handling manure a little tricky. “If you use deep tillage in Calhoun County, you better like picking rocks,” Blight said. “The older I get, the less I like rocks and the more I appreciate methods that are less labor intensive and leave a little money in my wallet."

The second part of the tour highlighted environmental protection practices that have helped Blight Farms achieve verification in the Michigan Agriculture and Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).

“Although there is no silver bullet for manure management, we want to show options to farmers so they can pick and choose what will work in their situations”, says Natalie Rector, MSU Extension sr. educator. The event showed two methods for establishing cover crops: drilling and slurry seeding. (See “Cereal rye: manure and livstock’s new best friend.”)

Slurry seeding is a method that is the brainchild of Tim Harrigan, MSU Extension specialist in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. This concept places the cover crop seed directly into the manure tank and seeds the cover crop at the same time as spreading the manure.

“There are many iterations of what cover crop to use, when to plant and how to plant,” Rector said. “It is all a matter of what the farmer’s goals are and how it works into their cropping systems. The Calhoun County area is noted for stones, so many producers choose no-till farming practices to minimize bring them up to the surface. That method is great for soil conservation but can hinder incorporating manure; incorporation would improve odor control and nitrogen retention of manure.”

Cover crops can serve other purposes such as turnips and radish varieties for fall and winter beef pasturing or cereal rye for green chop in the spring for dairy. Roberta Osborne, MSU Extension dairy educator explained how rye green chop can contribute quality feed at a profit. Learn more in “Planting rye after corn silage”.

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