Illinois Field Day Demonstrates Cover Crop Benefits: Soil, Crops & Water
Contact: Terry Taylor – 618-599-8820; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Plumer – 618-364-2219; email@example.com
“Field days allow you to see data in real life, not just on paper,” says Terry Taylor, a veteran cover crop advocate who farms 2000 acres in Geff, IL. “It’s also a chance to learn firsthand from experts like Mike Plumer, without having to hire a crop consultant.”
Taylor, who has been a no-till farmer for decades, began experimenting with annual ryegrass as a “niche” cover crop in 2004. “I now have 80% of my acres in cover crops,” he adds, “and the rest of it is in river bottom, subject to regular flooding.
On Monday, August 15, Taylor will host a field day at his farm (US 45 South) starting at 4 p.m. Mike Plumer, a career educator recently retired from the Univ. of IL extension, will talk about various cover crop options – the benefits and management requirements of each. Besides Plumer and Taylor, other presenters will include cover crop pioneer Ralph Upton, Jr. and Ron Gray, a crop insurance agent, who will discuss evolving rules dealing with the use of cover crops.
“We’ll have three soil pits,” Taylor says. “One is a long-term no-till plot with annual ryegrass cover crop on it for the past six years. Another plot – also long term no-till with continuous corn – will feature the results of having hairy vetch for the past 10 years. The final pit will be a recent corn field conversion to no-till (less than 10 years) that’s had no cover crop,” he adds.
Taylor says that deep rooting is one strong benefit of annual ryegrass, along with its nutrient scavenging capability, mostly nitrogen. At the field day, he says visitors will witness the amazing difference cover crops make relative to fauna activity in the soil – the earthworms, etc – and the speed with which this activity processes the residue left from old crops. “There was about 3000 lbs/ac of cornstalk residue in the field when we planted this year, and that’s all consumed!” The nutrients in the residue are thus returned to the soil, speeding the process of soil building and crop health.
In addition to a discussion about cover crops, Taylor plans to exhibit two planters he uses, with variations based on which cover crop he’s using on that acreage. Along with that, he and Plumer will outline the basics for planting and management of the most popular cover crops.
“Most farmers in our region are doing no-till farming,” Taylor adds, “but the shift to cover crops takes additional knowledge, new management practices and even some different equipment. That’s a barrier for some, but these field days demonstrate why making the change is beneficial to the soil but also financially.”
“I think people generally agree that this is the way to go,” Taylor continues, “but making it work on large acreage is a bit like a jig-saw puzzle…making all the pieces fit nicely. Our field day is designed to present a few more of those pieces, hopefully to see a few more try it, knowing that there are lots of us who can answer questions along the way.”