With an audience of half farmers and half researchers, Dr. Ray Ward explained “What soil health reports tell us” at a workshop March 14th . His laboratory in Nebraska is the only commercial soil health testing facility in the US, but looks to build upon the interest in building and improving your soil. Combined with a cover crop field tour, other speakers shared their experience in choosing cover crop species, including animals in crop rotations and the logistics of planting, fertilizing and terminating the crop. Some winter cereals (Rye, oats, triticale, ryegrass) and legumes (clover, vetch, field pea) work well in Florida while other summer species are better adapted to our rainfall and heat (sunnhemp, cowpea, sudan sorghum, millet).
WATER QUALITY EXTENSION
As more emphasis in the Suwannee Basin is placed on water quality, cover crops may be able to play a central role in complying with the BMAPS (both in recycling nutrients and improving soil structure).
With the assistance of a 2-year Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant, agents are working with 12 demonstration growers to better understand “system” advantages and barriers to cover crop adoption. Results from Ward labs and farmer feedback will help UF/IFAS make better recommendations to others and guide them improve their soil.
BENEFITS OF SOIL HEALTH
Here are a few Farmer and Research cited benefits to cover crops
|Increased water holding capacity (1-5g/100g soil)||Nitrogen credits to cash crop (10-60lbs/ac more for legumes)|
|Increased soil organic matter (~.1%/yr)||Reduced nitrate leaching (from 40-70% of residual N)|
|Yield bumps in cash crops (corn +2.3bpa, soybean +2.1bpa, wheat 1.9pba)||Weed and disease suppression (hard to quantify)|