Going under cover with crops

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Hundley-Whaley Research Center Field Day to highlight importance of our soils with talks on cover crops, irrigation and what is coming next for agriculture

In the 1980s Missouri was ranked second in the country in soil loss. At an average of 10.9 tons per acre, it wasn’t an accolade to be proud of. Farmers took to conservation efforts such as no-till planting to help lower erosion levels to 5.3 tons per acre and now the Show-Me State has improved to ranked fifth in erosion problems.

“As a farmer, the most valuable asset we have is our soil,” said Bruce Burdick, superintendent of Hundley-Whaley Research Center. “Challenge is, how we keep that soil in a good productive nature?”

Burdick added that conventional fields could lose up to 30 tons of soil loss per acre, which can be equivalent to 60 years of a sustainable agriculture system.

“We need to be at a sustainable level of around 1 to 2 tons per acre soil loss so we can regenerate the soil,” said Burdick. “That is a one-dime thickness of loss across an acre is what we are talking about.”

Ways to control soil loss often include management strategies away from conventionally planting and will be the one of the features at the Hundley-Whaley Research Center Field Day in Albany on Aug. 27.

Tours will start at 9 a.m. with informational talks along the way at the center operated by the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) at the University of Missouri. Topics will include information about tile drainage, cover crop selection and systems, summer forage options for livestock and extending nitrogen availability in corn. MU Weed Specialist Kevin Bradley also will present information on the latest problem weeds, such as waterhemp, and how to control them.

MU Extension Professor Ray Massey also will share an economic outlook of crop prices in 2015 and Dusty Walter, superintendent at Wurdack Research Center, will demonstrate a portable saw mill. Kent Shannon, natural resource engineering specialist, will talk about the popular trend of using unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs for agricultural use and Extension State Climatologist Pat Guinan will give an analysis of weather patterns.

Tours will conclude at noon and a complimentary lunch will be served.

Still not sold on the advantages of cover crops? Ray Wright, research specialist at Bradford Research Center, will give a demonstration with an erosion simulator that illustrates how much runoff happens from a conventional, no-till and cover crop system. The demo mimics a rain event over three separate soil pans used with each system. As the water moves through the soil, it is collected in jars to give a visual representation of what is being lost due to erosion.

“What you are seeing is a lot of nutrients and plant matter being lost to erosion in the conventional planting styles,” said Wright. “When that water hits the open ground there is nothing to absorb that needed moisture and it flows away, along with that nitrogen that you put down. With cover crops, this is reduced and the water and nutrients are held within the soil profile and not being wasted.”

A real-world application of the demonstration has been an ongoing study with cornfields planted in the different methods. Even at the first glance of the plot, the shorter stalks from the conventional planting are a stark contrast to the healthier and green corn in the cover crop and no-till systems. Visit http://hundleywhaley.cafnr.org/videos/ for an overview of the project.

“If we don’t have soil, we don’t have yields,” said Burdick. “We have to keep a better watch on what’s going on in our fields yet use systems that make business sense. Hopefully the information presented at our Field Day will help the farmers across Missouri.”

The Field Day is an opportunity to connect with local farmers, researchers that are doing world-class studies in your own backyard and those involved with making agriculture decisions for the state.

For more information about Hundley-Whaley Research Center, call 660-726-3698 or visit their new website at http://hundleywhaley.cafnr.org. The center is located at 1109 S. Birch Street in Albany. From Highway 136, head south on Highway 85 (also called N. Hundley Street) for 1.8 miles. Turn right onto Bethany Street and the center is located at the intersection of Bethany and Birch streets.

Hundley-Whaley is one of CAFNR’s Agricultural Research Centers located throughout Missouri that regularly host educational workshops. Visit http://cafnr.org/events/ for more events located across the Show-Me State.


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