Articles, Blog

Cover Crops: Why grow a crop you don’t sell?

This is David Lamm here at
the East National Technology Support Center. And joining me in the room
today is Russell Hedrick. He’s the farmer. And I’m going to let
Russell introduce himself and the other guest I
have in the room here with me before we let Madalene
begin her presentation. So Russell, you want
to say a couple words? Thanks, David. My name’s Russell Hedrick. I’m a young farmer
here in North Carolina, located in Catawba County,
city of Hickory and Newton. And we’re going to be
discussing the cover crop case study that was done on our farm. And I’d like to introduce
my district conservationist with the NRCS, Lee Holcomb. Thanks, Russell. My name, again, is Lee Holcomb. I’m with the Natural Resources
Conservation Service. I’ve been a district
conservationist in Catawba County for only two
years, a little over two years. And so I cover Catawba
and Alexander Counties, and that is in the foothills
of Western North Carolina. OK. Thank you, gentlemen. And then we’ll turn it over
to Madalene Ransom, who let me introduce her as the
East National Technology Support Center’s economist. And she’s going to be talking
about a topic as I go around and work with folks and
discuss soil health. Everybody’s interested
in the economics of it. And I really
appreciate her title that they’ve chosen, Cover
Crops– Why Grow a Crop You Don’t Sell? I think that’s a very
interesting and intriguing topic. So Madalene, we’re going to
just turn it over to you. And before I do,
I just want to let folks know that we will be
pausing at a couple places during Madalene’s
presentation to respond to the questions that come in. So again, if you
have a question, go up there to the notes
section, type it in, and I’ll be reading
them to Madalene at the appropriate point
of the presentation. So Madalene, the floor is yours. Thank you, David. And thank all of
you for joining us. I am so pleased that Russell
and Lee can be here with us. We want to thank Russell
and Lee for this webinar. Russell is a meticulous
farmer who takes lots of notes and has been generous
to share them with us. Russell and Lee have never
tired of our questions and they’ve given us
an abundance of detail. In fact, we have so much detail
it would take hours to share it with you, so today we’re
sharing part of it. This webinar has three parts. The first part is
going to describe Russell’s farm and the
on-farm test he conducted. The second part presents
the benefits and costs due to cover crop on
soybeans in the first year. And the third part
introduces partial budgets. And they are really important
to understand in order to avoid miscommunications
with farmers. If at the end of
this webinar you want to have a follow-up webinar
on another aspect of this case study, we can do that. We’ve done it in the past, and
we’ll be glad to do that again. Our focus is the
farmers who are thinking about trying cover crops. Our goal is to provide
them enough detail so that they have a
specific framework they can use to imagine their own
transition to cover crops. Well, let’s talk
about Russell’s farm. It’s the Rocky Ford Farm. And I hope you can
see my cursor here. It’s in North Carolina
in the western section in Catawba County. The Farm Service
Agency has defined seven fields on this farm. Four are cropland and
those are the four I’ve identified in this map. And the rest is forestland
and then headquarters. A little bit of history
about these fields, the cropland fields. Fields 1, 2, and 3 have been in
cropland for quite a long time. And for the last 12
or so years they’ve been in continuous no-till corn. Previous to that, they
were idle and the weeds were bush hogged once a year. The more northernly
field, Field 5 here, which Russell
broke into two sections for soil testing
purposes, this had been forestland for a long time. And in 2012, Russell
converted it to cropland. One of the things
that’s really important is the initial
conditions of any study. And this is the
study of transition, going from no cover
crops to cover crops. So what were the
initial conditions? And for this, it would be
the initial soil conditions. What kind of soil did
Russell start with? Was it good,
excellent, or degraded? And this is the
kind of information that will help a farmer and
a conservation planner better assess how useful or how
transferable Russell’s experience are to
their own circumstances when they are deciding whether
or not to try cover crops. Well, we use two
types of information. One was the soil survey. The NRCS Soil Survey. And here’s a map
of the soil types. Again, this is Russell’s
farm, a stream running along the edge of the
farm, and the green is a Congaree soil with
slopes of 0% to 2%. It’s categorized as prime
farmland when it’s not flooded, and because it drains well
it’s not often flooded. The rest of the cropland up here
is leveled clay land, a Lloyd loam, and it’s more
slopey at 15% to 25%, and it’s not classified
as prime farmland. Russell has done a
lot of soil tests, and our agronomist, Steve
Boetger, looked at them and chose the one that would
be most appropriate to compare with the county’s soil survey. So Steve looked at three. The first one was the
percent organic matter. And so Fields 1,
2, and 3– the ones that have been cropped
for quite a while– had soil samples
in October 2012. That was just before
planting the cover crop. And you can see
that Russell’s soil had far more organic matter
than the county average. And in October 2012, he
did not sample Field 5 because it had just come
out of the forest land use. The second one that
Steve looked at was the Cation
Exchange Capacity. And you can see that these
are within the county range. No big outliers here. And for me as an
economist, that’s an important piece
of information because it foretells– a
higher CEC foretells a lower cost in that the farmer less
frequently has to apply lime. And the last one that Steve
considered was soil pH. And we can see, again,
Russell’s samples were quite close to the
county average. A bit higher, a bit more
neutral because Russell had applied lime
the year before. So what do we say? We say the initial soil
conditions for Russell is that he didn’t
have degraded soils. The land use history
anticipated that, didn’t it? The lower fields
have a potential actually for a sharp increase
in biological activity after only one year
of cover crops because of the high organic percentages. So let’s go on to
Russell’s on-farm test. What was he testing? When Russell first
heard about cover crops, he was interested in the
weed control and soil erosion, reduction
of soil erosion. So that’s what he decided
he was going to test. Well, why would he
perform his own test? There’s literature out
there of what’s going on and what you can expect. And as he said to me,
you know, the research is all well and good. I just wanted to see what cover
crops would do on my farm. So how did he perform this test? So we bring back the map of
the crop acres, and what he did was block off middle
section as no cover crop. Marked it with yellow flags. And then he drilled a
cover crop mix for corn in this upper field, field 5,
and a mix he designed with Lee. And then he drilled cover
crop mix for soybeans. Again, a mix designed with Lee. And after the cover
crops were terminated, he planted the cash crops. He no-tilled corn and
then he drilled soybeans. And remember, the hatched area
is the no-cover crop area. So what is this map telling us? The corn was planted on
cover crop and no cover crop. And the soybeans planted on
cover crop and no cover crop. And they were planted– the
corn was planted same day, same seeding rate. The only difference was the
existence of cover crop or not. And remember, this
soil map shows that this whole area here–
my cursor is– this whole area here is the same soil type so
the soil type was constant. So during the cash
crop growing season, Russell being the
attentive farmer was going out to see
how is this going. What’s happening out there? What does this cover
crop stuff look like? Well, I was out there
in mid July with him and we were looking in
this soybean field that had cover crops and here’s the
cover crop residue– looking for weeds. Saw almost no weeds. This is important
in the Southeast because increasingly weeds have
become herbicide resistant. What Russell had decided to do
in his test was not to spray opposed to herbicide
just to give the cover crops a real test,
what could they really do to control the weeds. And what was interesting
about this past summer, the summer of 2013
was extremely wet. More than twice the normal. And it was so wet and so often
that his neighbor farmers weren’t able to get out there
to spray their herbicides in a timely manner,
but Russell didn’t have to worry about that. The other thing that
Russell saw in his test was the erosion on
the no cover crop area that he did not see in
the cover cropped area. The other thing during the
growing season was a surprise. He did not expect in the
first year of cover crop to observe a difference
in the plants. And these are soybean plants. And the one on the
left, the larger one, came off of the
cover cropped area. The smaller from the
no cover cropped area. And I was there that
day and we were just walking across the
field and talking and just plucked the
plant from cover crop and just plucked– so we did
not look for the largest cover crop and the smallest
no cover crop. And so when we
look more closely, the one from the cover
crop had more pods. There were more beans in a pod. And at that time in
midsummer it looked like those beans might actually
be larger at harvest time. So harvest time. Last year, Russell’s harvest
were two kinds of harvests. One was harvesting to the
test and after that was done, then he harvested for
the rest of the fields. So let’s look at
soybeans no cover crop. So we’ll expand
that a little bit. Blow it up. What he did was go out to the
no cover crop soybean area, easy to identify, and he
harvested the largest rectangle he could in that area. He measured it with
a measuring wheel and then took the
truck to the elevator. The elevator then measured the
number of bushels in the truck and now he had truckload bushels
divided by the measured area, and then he could
calculate his yield. He did this three more times. So he did it with the
soybeans with cover and the corn with no cover
and the corn with cover. So let’s look at the
results for soybeans. So the soybeans
with no cover crop. The length and the width, acres. The truck load 101.18 bushels. Do a little bit of arithmetic
and you get 50.5 bushels to the acre. Same with the soybeans on the
cover crop in this section here. The length and the
width, the truckload, a little bit of arithmetic,
and it’s 68.6 bushels per acre. Bringing them
together, we can now calculate the increased yield
of actually 18.1 bushels per acre rounded to 18 bushels. So that’s how Russell
calculated the change in yield from his test. Well, was this a good test? Not to the researchers. He didn’t have plot
replications and he was only doing it for one year. But the question still
remains, was this a good test? Well, for the farmer it was. He saw few weeds in
the cover cropped area. He saw erosion in the
no cover cropped area. And he saw evidence
of a yield increase. In fact, he experienced that. And when I was out there
with him this summer and we talked about
this, the thing that struck me about his test
was that the no cover crop area reminded him of what that whole
farm could have looked like. Sometimes when you make a change
you forget where you came from. And that test enabled him to
remember where he came from. So David, I turn it over. Maybe there’s a question. Yeah, there is. Thanks, Madalene. And a couple questions
and I’m going to direct these
towards Russell here. What particular
weed issues were you trying to address by going
to this cover crop mix? The previous year, we
really had to battle hard with redroot pigweed,
cocklebur, and morning glories. We had pretty heavy pressure. OK. And then I’ve got two
more Madalene then I’m going to let
you keeping going. The second one, maybe I’ll
direct this one towards Lee. You developed the
cover crop mix. Could you tell us what was in
it and what was your rationale behind choosing those
particular species? Well at first, Russell, since
he was on the floodplain and he had some concerns as
far as when flooding would get involved– it would wash
away some of the soil through that way. So we implemented a
lot of small grains, such as cereal rye,
oats, and triticale. And then of course
to avoid maybe some of the immobilization
of nitrogen, we added legume,
crimson clover, and then we also added–
if you can get it planted early enough–
daikon radish. OK. And then one more question. Speculate why the
yield increased. That’s a statistically
significant yield increase. Why do you suppose that
came about, Russell? If I had to contribute
to the yield increase, 2013 was an extremely wet
year here in North Carolina and a lot of guys saw
a lot of weed pressure because they couldn’t
get in the field and spray due to how
wet the soils were. I think the cover
crop keeping the weeds back kept the plant
health and helped that plant excel as far
as producing bushels. One more quick question came in. I’ll direct this to Lee maybe. Did you see– your
cover crop, did you see, did it come up uniformly
as far as the variety of the mix of the species or
did you see patches or just give a general description of that. Yeah, because Russell
actually did no-till, drills all the species
in, we were very surprised and very happy that the crimson
clover and the daikon radish came up really well,
even when established with those three small grains. OK. Good. OK, Madalene. We’re caught up for now. And again, I remind
folks if you’ve got some more questions
go ahead and type them in, and at the next pause we’ll
try and work those in. So back to you, Madalene. Hey, thanks. So let’s look at the benefits
and costs due to cover crop on soybeans in the first year. The benefits– this
is the happy news– and before we get to that,
I want to issue a caution. So in order to make the
presentation just cleaner, I used rounding. And if you’re going to
do your own arithmetic you may be off by $1 or so. So just know that. OK, so the first is the
benefits based on yield. And so we already
know for soybeans that Russell calculated an
increase of 18 bushels an acre. His contract price
is $12.75 a bushel and his increased gross
revenue is $230 an acre. Well, there’s another
category of benefits and those are based
on production inputs. Russell would have given
a little shot of nitrogen to his soybeans
at the beginning. And because of the legume
in the cover crop mix he did not have to
spend that $23 an acre. The other was post herbicide. And so as we’ve said
several times already, he did not spray. That saved him $28 an acre. And so the total savings for
the crop production costs $51. Adding that to the
gross revenue increase, the total additional benefit
in dollars per acre was $280. Well, let’s go to the bad news. The cost in the first year. Very important to
keep that in mind. We had nine cost categories. And Russell and I designed these
through the interview process. Like, OK, so Russell,
what did it take do this? And so the very first
chronologically is learning. Russell is in a community
that doesn’t use cover crops. And in fact, the
title of this webinar, Why Grow Something
you Don’t Sell, came from a farmer I heard
ask that question of Russell. Why would you do that? So Russell had learning,
essentially on his own, with technical
assistance from Lee. Of all those, we’re going
to talk about the learning cost, break it down, how could
it possibly be $67 an acre, and then we’re going to
look at the cover crop seed cost, the field
monitoring, termination, and a short note about
the additional cost to plant his cash crop
because he had cover crop. We see that in the first year
the total additional cost was $152 an acre. So now, we’re going to
look at the learning costs. The farm field day–
it all started there– six hours of Russell’s time. This is when he first
heard about cover crops and he was really curious
about, OK, so weed control and erosion. Hmm. That’s interesting. And then he started
working with Lee. In the field office, Lee
went out to the field to walk with him. Russell also received assistance
from one of our agronomists from the East National
Technology Support Center. And Russell also spent time
talking with ARS– Ag Research Service– the Rick
Haney Soil Lab. And that was seven hours. Look at this one. Internet, nine hours
a week for 12 weeks. That was 108 hours. How does that make sense? Now what is the 12 weeks? That’s the time
between his learning that there’s such a
thing as cover crops to the time he made the
decision, he paid for the seed. So in those 12 weeks, he was
spending about nine hours a week– remember, he’s
a meticulous farmer. He takes notes. And I thought about that. Is that reasonable? And then I thought about–
he started from zero. Did not know what
cover crops were. Did not know what
soil health was. Gosh, that’s kind of
like when I took physics. I started from zero. And a three-unit course. The recommendation is for
every unit of class time you’re supposed to spend
three hours of study time. So for a three-unit course,
spend nine hours a week studying. Well, you know,
Russell essentially took a course designed by
the DC and the agronomist and the soil folks and ARS,
and it made sense to me. That’s actually feasible. If you’re going from zero to
making the dollar commitment to buy that seed,
that’s probably a reasonable amount of time. So his total time was 121 hours. The value of the farmer time,
what were we going to say was the hourly value? And as I got to
know Russell knew that he does
everything on his farm. He is doing the marketing. He is doing the planning. He’s doing his crop
advising himself. Identifying, designing
equipment modifications. He’s doing the maintenance
and repair on the equipment, and he’s doing the field work. He’s doing all of that. So how would you
value that time? And so we decided $20
an hour for anything he did would be a good average. And there’s Economic
Research Service, a publication that we also use
to see if this was ballpark. And this is ballpark. So the value of time
for learning was $2,420. And then he takes notes,
and so he said, oh, you want to add the postage
for sending the soil samples to Haney. And that was in the
learning category. So we take those
total learning costs and divide it by the
36.35 cover crop acres. We have $67 an
acre for learning. The cover crop seeds. So Lee has already
talked about the mix. And then here’s
the seeding rate. Here’s what they paid. The thing that was
interesting was the mixing, bagging, and shipping
cost of $11.25 an acre. That is 25% of the total cost. And when Russell
saw that he thought, next year we’ve got
to find somebody who doesn’t charge so much for
mixing, bagging, and shipping. And it also brings
up the question of when we give farmers
an estimate of seed costs, do we really think
about that function? Let’s go to the field monitoring
costs in the first year. Can you imagine how field
monitoring could possibly cost $11 an acre? Well, he drilled his cover
crop and in October he went to visit those
fields twice a week. And each trip took
about an hour. And then for the rest of
the cover crop season, he went out once a week. And by now, he knew
what he was looking for so those trips were only
about 15 minutes a trip. And so he had 13.5
farmer hours out there, monitoring at $20 an hour. Boom. We’ve got that cost. Every time he took a
trip he’d burn fuel and a gallon a
trip, $4 a gallon, there we have fuel costs. So when we take those two costs,
add them up and divide them by the number of cover crop
acres, we have $10.73 an acre. Termination costs for soybeans. My question to you is, what’s
not in the following costs that you think should be there? So the termination
costs that we counted, there’s farmer time to roll the
cover crop, 15 minutes an hour at $20 an hour. The fuel cost, 0.6 gallons
per acre, $4 a gallon. And then there was
the farmer time to go out and check
the termination, and then fuel cost
to do that check. And so the total termination
on a per-acre basis was $8.06 an acre. So what’s missing? There’s no herbicide cost here. Why is that? And it’s because Russell would
have terminated his winter weeds with the same herbicide. So for Russell,
the herbicide cost is a cost he would have
incurred in any event. So it is not a cost
due to cover crop. Additional costs to
drill the soybeans. Just a little note here. So when he went to
plant his cash crop, it took him a little bit
longer to go across the field. And in fact, he said it took
him about two hours longer for the 36.35 cover crop acres. And at $20 an hour that’s $40
spread over 36.35 cover crop acres, and that
was $1.10 an acre. And notice the detail here. It’s such a gift to us
to have a sense of what it took for him
in his first year. So David, maybe
now’s a good time to see if there’s
a question or two? Yeah, there are, Madalene. And again, I’ll bounce
these back and forth over here because
they’re asking more about the management activities. One of them– Russell,
I’ll direct this to you– is what kind of weed
pressure did you see a difference between
the corn and the beans and then between where you
had your cover crop and then no cover crop? We saw quite a bit of
difference in the weed pressure. When Madalene came
out to the field and we took some
pictures– she might be able to make those
available at a later date– but we still had a lot
of morning glories, a lot of cocklebur in
our no cover crop area. And where we had the
cover crops that mat just seemed to suppress it. It just couldn’t break through
it and get a hold on the crop. OK. Question about how did you
decide how deep, or planting of the cover crop mix, since
you had five or six species. You want to take
that one, Russell? Yeah, I’ll take that one. When me and Lee designed
that cover crop mix, we were able to use the
NRCS database as far as maybe the seeding depth
and took a happy medium. Some of it might have been rated
for 1/4 inch and some of it for an inch, and you just
have to find that area where you feel comfortable maybe
going 1/2 inch or 3/4 inches to make sure you’re getting
everything in that level area. OK. This one’s directed
at you, Madalene. Why would we
consider– maybe you can clarify a little bit
this whole idea of educating the farmer and why it’s
important to consider that when you’re looking at cost. I think it’s really
important– see now, Russell is in a
community where there were no farmers
doing cover crop. So he didn’t have
a farmer mentor to help him with shortcuts. So he was really on his own
with the technical folks. And I think that’s important to
help farmers not be surprised that– the advantage to
Russell of all that learning, and I did ask him, did you
feel like you spent too much time learning? But he had such a solid
base of information that when the summer turned
out to be very, very wet or any other event
that happened, he had such a broad
base of information that he could really
interpret what was going on and stay calm. And one of the
things he said to me was, if it wasn’t for
all that learning I did, when I saw that four
feet of thick biomass I would’ve panicked. And so it is a really
important part of a transition is to learn, especially
in a community where you don’t have that knowledge. So learning led to
confidence and understanding that was going to
come down the road. So that’s a good point. And one more question. I’ll direct this one at Lee. Changes for cover crop
plans for 2012 in the mix, did you guys discuss
that, and you got anything that you’re going
to do to improve on what you did last year? Well, I think Russell has
done a lot more homework, talking to different vendors as
far as availability to cut down that big price that we discussed
briefly with the mixing cost. But really I think we’re
going to, more or less, we’re going to alter the rate
more so versus totally changing up the mix. OK, so keep the same
species composition, but vary the rates accordingly. OK. All right, Madalene,
why don’t we go ahead and turn it back
over to you and continue on? Great, thank you. So before we leave
costs, let’s look at Russell’s expected
costs of the second year. And so what we’ve done here is
restated the cost categories, and in the faded font
is the first year costs. Remember, it was $152. But in the second year he’s
expecting about $69 an acre, which is less than half. So where were the changes? Well, learning went
from $67 to $0. Does that mean Russell
stopped learning? No. What it means is
that his learning is going to be in smaller
segments, a conversation here or there, a phone call or
a text message or an email. It’s not going to be that
protracted sitting down and really studying. So he is expecting not to spend
a whole lot of time learning. What else? The cover crop seed
costs are going to go down because
he found a vendor who sold high-quality
seed at a lower price. The other decrease is
in the field monitoring. So in his second
year, he learned a lot in the first year,
and so he doesn’t have to spend that
much time monitoring. So we see that the costs
in the second year he’s expecting it to
be less than half what it was in the first year. Let’s bring it all together
and look at the net benefits. Those are defined to
be the total benefits minus the total costs. And so we saw that
the total benefits, soybeans in the first
year, $280 an acre. The total costs in the
first year, $152 an acre. And the net benefits due to
cover crops was $128 an acre. So for Russell, cover
crops on soybeans more than paid for
themselves in the first year. Let’s go on to a partial budget. Partial means part. It’s a part of something. A partial budget considers
a rather small change in the farm operation. And for us, today, the benefits
and costs of cover crops comprise a partial
budget for Russell. In contrast, an
enterprise budget considers a major part
of the farm operation, such as a whole crop budget. And for us, today, that would
be to combine the partial budget of cover crops with the soybean
budget without cover crops. In fact, what we are
doing in this section is combining Russell’s cover
crop first year benefits and cost with a generalized
soybean crop budget, which considers only the variable
costs of growing no-till, no cover crop, dryland soybeans. The importance of
this section is to appreciate that what people
call benefits and costs can mean different things
in different budgets. And not understanding this can
lead to communication problems with farmers who doubt
the value of cover crops. So let’s look at
Russell’s benefits and costs– the variable
costs– without a cover crop. And what we did was go look
for a published no-till soybean dryland crop budgets
and out of that, Russell said he
didn’t want us to know his proprietary production
practices, so the $275 was the variable
cost per acre of the no-till dryland soybeans. And the way we are
presenting this is in terms of the changes
due to cover crops. So the nitrogen
bump was the $23. The post herbicide
after emergence was $27. And the rest was $225. So that’s what you might find
on the web for a soybean budget. The benefits– now
Russell, remember, he was getting 50.5 bushels
per acre at his contract price of $12.75 so that his
revenue without cover crop was $644. And subtracting the $275 from
the $644, we have $369 an acre that he made
without cover crops. So now let’s add his cover
crop benefits and costs. And what this is doing is
inserting the cover crop costs into the costs and inserting
the benefits due to cover crops into the benefits,
and then being able to calculate the net
benefits once the cover crops are in there. So the cover crop
costs and benefits we’ve been talking about
is a partial budget. It’s not why he put them in
there, not for them themselves. It was for the benefits he
was going to get out of them. And so we tuck those costs
into the no cover crop budget to get an enterprise
budget that we might name– if we
were publishing this– we’d call this enterprise
budget no-till soybeans, dryland with cover crop. And of course it would be first
year because of the costs. And so what did cover crops do? Well, we come down to the
net benefit section here, and we saw that
without cover crops he was getting to keep $369 an
acre to pay for his fixed costs and maybe have fun. And then the cover
crops added $128 to that for the
cover cropped acres so that he had a total net
benefit that was larger by $128 an acre. Understanding a
partial budget prevents the following
communication problem. This is the wrong way to say it. So a planner says to a farmer,
you can make $130 an acre with cover crops. And the farmer thinks
about that and says, but I already make $370
an acre without the fuss and bother of cover crops. Fuss and bother, by the way,
should have been put in quotes. I heard that. But the right way to say
that is the planner can say, you can add $130 per
acre to your existing profits with cover crops. And that lets the
farmer think, really? And so Russell
answered the question, why grow something
you don’t sell? Reduce soil erosion, reduce post
herbicides, increase yields, and increased profits. So if you feel like you have
questions after you hang up from today, you’re
welcome to call me. My contact information
is in that PowerPoint. And David, final
session for questions? OK. Thanks, Madalene. That’s a most
excellent presentation. I compliment you on that. And I do have a
couple of questions. And again, I’ll just
try and direct them to who I think might give us
the most appropriate answer. And I remind folks, keep
the questions coming. This one I’ll direct
at you, Russell. The idea of using gramoxone. Can you maybe explain–
there’s a question about your sequencing
of rolling, spraying, and then maybe use of gramoxone
rather than– would you use that on a cover crop or
non cover crop situation. Well, our termination is
we get a high clearance sprayer to come out and spray. We usually wait
about two or three days to let that chemical
soak in and then we’ll go out and we’ll roll that mat down. The reason we use
gramoxone is we try to change up
herbicide chemistry. And we try not to using anything
that we would potentially use post in a burn
down application. And that way we can
keep our pest management as far as resistant weeds down. And we’re rolling it
with a coulter packer. We don’t have a
crimper at this time, but if you can dig
one out of the woods it does just as good of a job. OK. And maybe I’ll get
opinions from each of you related to this question. Would you have considered
this last year experience as a best-case scenario related
to the way things worked out? Or any comments from
each of your perspective. Maybe I’ll let you start, Lee. I will say the biggest
benefits Russell started out you wanted reduced
erosion, reduced weeds, and we had a
tremendous– this is after he planted his cash
crop– had a tremendous flooding event July 27 this
year in Catawba County. And with that, he already
had that cover on the ground and we had so much
small grain involved that it really prevented
a lot of excess washing of the soil we
already had intact. And even with the addition
of some soil material from the flooding
event we still were able to limit the weed
pressure, and so we accomplished both tasks that Russell set out. And so from a
planner’s standpoint, you always hope when
someone tries something new that it works of what
Russell was looking for, and it met his two factors. OK, good, good. What about you, Russell? Actually, I think the
best is yet to come. I think getting our
biological soil health built is something we’re
going to strive for. And every year we keep
doing these cover crops and me and Lee went out there
before we terminated and you could see the
earthworm castings just straight on top of the ground. The soil tilth is getting
better with every cover crop that we do. And I think eventually
you’re going to reach that plateau
that every year you’re not going to see
these great benefits. They’re going to vary from
year to year, depending on the weather and the
mix that you plant. But I would just like
to encourage everybody to try something new and
try to spread the word. And what about from your
perspective, Madalene? Go ahead. Yeah, thank you. I would like to let folks
know that Russell is really a meticulous farmer. And in fact, his
no cover crop yield is greater than county
average by a lot. So he just gets a lot
out of his practices. And other thing I want
to share, something that Russell just said
that he shared with me more specifically and that is if
cover crops are going to pay 6 out of 10 years, he’s happy. And what’s important
about that to me is that he’s recognizing
risk that you can’t know from year to year
what you’re going to face. And so when he’s looking at
that big bump in profits, those profits are going to
help him in the lean years. OK. Thanks, Madalene. I’m curious, a question
came in about the impact of the out-of-bank
flow on the cover crop. Was that an issue as
far as to knock it down, did you have trouble
terminating it, planting into it,
those types of things? Yeah, actually, that’s
a good question. We had some that
was still standing we were going to plant into and
we had quite a big flood event and it just tangled
that stuff all together and I was actually
really worried about it. I met some guys from
the NRCS at a field day and was talking to them and they
had had the same experience. The thing to remember is once
you put that cover crop down and it’s down for a week to
two, it really tends to dry up and we didn’t have
any issues at all with planting through it or
good seed-to-soil contact. Cover crop is like
anything else, if you want to be
profitable with it and get something from
it, you have to manage it. So you didn’t have an issue with
it matting down and creating an excessively wet
soil condition? No, no, we didn’t have any
issues like that at all. OK. Madalene, I have several
questions related to, did you perform a
similar analysis on the corn side of things? We focused a lot on the soybean. Yes, we did. And the corn story– we decided
not to share the corn story because that one’s
more complicated and maybe that would be a
really good follow-up webinar. The corn actually lost. And it lost about $5 an acre and
so the corn plus the soybeans together, when you
average them, we use an acreage weighted
average, that Russell was still much better off
with a cover crop. But the corn story was
really interesting. Part of the problem was a
mistake that Russell made and– They cost the farmer. No. And so that would be a
really good story to tell, but I felt like
for this first one that we really get
the method down because the method of
looking at costs and benefits is the same method. We just came up with
different [INAUDIBLE]. Do you want to comment,
follow on that, Russell what the curiosity
was that killed the cat so to speak? Well, in different
parts of the country, people try different
species and I wanted to try annual ryegrass. I’m not saying I’m completely
against annual ryegrass, but here in North Carolina
and especially in my operation we try to get the most biomass
that we can from our cover crops, and we just let
ours go way too long and had too many tillers
and we had a difficult time with burn down and termination. We might try it again
in a later year. I’m not 100% sure on
that, but, like I said, everything takes management. And my DC told me a
little bit about it. And I went against what he
said and we tried it out. But I won’t fault him on
that for not stopping me. OK. Madalene, I’ll kick
this one to you. There’s a question
about– you showed a slide about the anticipated
costs for the second year and the benefits. Could you maybe go into
a little more discussion about the differences and why
there’s a bigger cost ratio. Maybe you can go
back to that slide. Just maybe review
that a little bit. OK. So the question is, why
it’s still $69 an acre? Yeah, yeah. OK. Because you read cover
crop is $35 or $40 an acre, but it doesn’t talk
about the soil tests, it doesn’t talk about, perhaps,
the cost of drilling, the cost of going out and seeing
that things are OK. Do you have to
replant some sections? And then maybe not even
the termination costs. So it may be $69 an acre– OK. OK. -when you think of everything. So what you’re
suggesting is sometimes we tend to include things,
such as the soil test or something that we just have
become accustomed to using and don’t account
for it as a cost. Well, it depends. And David, that’s a good point. It depends. If you’re doing the soil
test because you always would be doing them
without cover crop, then the soil test would be $0. And you’re testing every
year, Russell, because– Talking with Lee, it does vary
even across our own state. We’re in a very
forgiving clay soil and our pH really
doesn’t change too much. Most guys might soil sample
once every four years, but we’re wanting to maximize
everything on the farm so we do them every
year if we can, especially on new
ground until we get it built where we want it. And We’re trying to
reduce our inputs. And with doing
these cover crops, the more organic
matter you build, the more organic
nitrogen you’ll get released later on in the year. And therefore, you
have to soil sample it to get those
results to see what’s happening with your ground. Do you have a comment, Madalene? Yes, mhm. So even if it is
$69 an acre, that’s not the important number. The important number
is the dollars you get to keep in your pocket. It’s the benefits that came. So if you get $200 additional
because of the cover crop and you only paid $69 to get
that $200, it’s a bargain. That’s a good return
on investment. Yeah, OK. All right, good. I’ve got a couple
questions related to the management aspect. One, do you fertilize
both your non cover crop and your cover
crop ground the same? And then maybe you
can follow it up, your planting– what
kind of a planter, openers, those types
of things that you’ve got to place the
seeds in the ground. We’ll start at
cover crop planting. And when we drill
our cover crop, it is a 100% scavenge crop. We don’t put any kind of
fertilizer in the fall. It’s just using what’s
residually there in the ground that our cash crop didn’t use. As far as the fertilization on
the cover crop and non cover crop ground, the spreader
truck went through it the same. We didn’t change
anything on rate. We tried to leave
everything the same as best we could to see if there
was a true difference between the cover crop and not. And the planter that
we use is we just used a standard John Deere 7000. We have added some
extra stuff to it to deal with the residue,
such as no-till coulters and floating row cleaners. And just very minimal stuff. Just make sure that your double
disk openers and your coulters are sharp. And we haven’t had any issues
with penetrating that mat and getting good
seed-to-soil contact. And you used that on
both corn and beans? We will with beans this year. Last year, no. We used a drill for
all our soybeans and it’s just because we weren’t
set up where we wanted to be. But we planted corn
and drilled the beans. OK. Maybe, Lee, I don’t know
if you were out there. Did you notice any potential
allelopathic effects since you had such a
lot of rye, cereals? Was that an issue? Did either one of you notice it? No. As far as that, when we
looked at the weed pressure after we planted, we
were happy to see– and you always read
about cereal rye, like you just mentioned,
having allelopathic effects and keeping your
weed pressure down. And we all can base what
we saw in the field, but we were very happy with
both the beans and the corn. You didn’t see any impact
on germination or stand or anything? No. We did several
stand measurements, and we couldn’t tell
any stand reduction in our cover crop acres or non. OK. Madalene, I’ve got a
question directed to you maybe is this idea
of fixed cost. I don’t recall seeing
anything mentioned in there about fixed cost. Can you explain what that is
or maybe a little discussion on that? Sure. So a fixed cost is
a cost that does not change for some
scale of operations. So for Russell, it
would be the cost that doesn’t change
with the number of acres and cover crop or
not cover cropped. So like his equipment costs,
that would be a fixed cost. The taxes would be a fixed cost. Those don’t change. So that’s what a fixed cost is. And that’s why it was
very important to talk about a partial
budget so we’re not looking at all the
costs on that farm. We were looking at the variable
costs of growing the soybeans. OK. That’s why the word cost
it means different things depending on what kind of
budget you’re talking about. So that for him the net benefits
that are in this PowerPoint are going to go
to do two things. They’re going to make
payments on those fixed costs, and then whatever is left over
from that he really, truly gets to keep. That’s what he– OK. We’ve got just a few
minutes left here. And I guess what I would like to
hear is is we gave each of you speakers a chance to
say what do you do next? Follow up? What do you anticipate results? What do you like to see? I’m assuming you’re
going to continue on with this project
the next year or two so maybe, Lee, from a
conservationist perspective maybe what do you see happening
over the next couple years? So like I said earlier,
we’re just playing with rates as far as with the five-way mix. Russell’s going to continue
to do what he has been doing. He increased his cover
crop acres this year, except for– last year. And he’s going to try some new
mixes based on– a common thing we hear about is, what if
I’m harvesting my grain late? What are my options there? So he’s trying to really come
up with three different kind of mixes. One, if you get an early
harvest of your grain you can plant this. Maybe mid-to-late harvest,
and then a very late harvest, trying to adjust those
mixes to be more realistic and try to be more
cost effective. And really we’re
trying to promote this more– what I see
from a conservation planner standpoint is we’re trying
to promote this more. Russell is going to hold a
soil health field day on May 9 at his Rocky Ford Farm
here in North Carolina. So with that, not only just
Russell seeing the benefits, but letting him
maybe be the mentor and being the guinea pig
that starts this movement in hopes that we increase
participation in here. Just because with
the soybean harvest, a lot of times now even with
no-till, have very low residue. And so we can do this
cover crop mixes, we’re scavenging some of the
excess nutrients from the cash crop and obviously, reducing
the chances for erosion. There you go. Russell, what’s your plans? Like Lee said, we’re
trying some new mixes. We were actually
able to find a vendor and they were actually
able to help us with the seed for the
next several years. We’ve had really good
conversations with them and they’re very knowledgeable. We’re just trying to
do things on our farm. I’m working closely with Lee. We’re still doing
several check acres. If you’ve got some farmers,
if you’re an NRCS person or work with local
farmers, there’s always going to be that doubt. Tell them to do like we did. Leave some shakes. We’ve got three farms
that we’re leaving shakes with no cover crops on
maybe an acre or two. And that way if area farmers
want to come look at it, they can see the
visual results that you did in the presentation today. And we’re also trying
some new things. We’re trying to plant cover
crops before our cash crop this year. We’re actually going to plant
some buckwheat before the cash crop. We’ll give it about 30
to 40 days of growth and we will terminate
that and plant into it and I think that’s going to
increase our water infiltration in the soil with that rip zone. And that’s also going to
build our organic matter and release those nutrients
later on to cash crops. So you’re always learning
and it’s something that you should
always continue with. That does sound
interesting there. And Madalene, from an
economist point of view, what do you see
happening down the road on this type of a project? Well, you know
what I would really love is to find a farmer
who’s starting out with really degraded soil– tobacco and
cotton for generations– and see what the cost of
transition are for that. My guess is you’re not going
to get a yield bump for awhile, but I think that would
be really helpful. Well, I’m not going to poke fun. I’m sure there’s a few
out there and we can maybe try to find you one. That’s a good one, Madalene. Well, listen, this
has really been fun for me, a good discussion. And I’m going to let
Russell finish off. This field day? You want to give a
little more specifics if folks want to
participate and where they might get
information on it? Yeah. The website to register
for the field day is And when you go
there, you can just type into the search, soil
health or Catawba County soil and water. It will bring up the event
and you can register. What the day is
going to include is we’ll have Ray Archuleta out. We’re going to get him to
get the crowd pumped up and get everybody on what
we’re going to do that day. And then Madalene
is going to speak on the economics
of this case study. Dana and, I think, Lee we’re
going to have a root pit, do some slake tests. We might do some
infiltration tests. Steve will hopefully be there
with a rainfall simulator. And if you’ve never seen
a rainfall simulator, I urge everybody to go to
YouTube and check it out. That really opened up my eyes. It was pretty amazing. And I’m going to have my
planting equipment there. And we’ll just talk
about what we’ve done to change
with our planting, especially a lot of guys don’t
think about the high carbon to nitrogen ratio, so
you get a little tie up. So we’ve done some
things to mitigate that. And I’m pretty sure
that’s about all we have planned for that
day, but if anybody wants the address I will
put it on here. It’s 3230 Rocky Ford Road. And that’s Newton,
North Carolina 28605. OK, and thanks a lot. There’s been several
questions about copies of the presentation. And as Holli mentioned
earlier, that’s going to be available at the And with that,
gentleman and Madalene, I think y’all did a great job
and I appreciate everybody participating on a Friday. Good crowd. So I look forward to the next
one, which will be April 8 and our topic will be dryland
farming from a farmer’s perspective with Scott
Ravenkamp in Eastern Colorado. And with that, we’ll sign off. And everybody, have a good day.

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