Field day touts bottom-line benefits of soil health

(Photo: Soil Health Partnership Director Nick Goeser shows the benefits of cover crops up close)

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Bryan Biegler has planted mixes of rye grass, turnips, brassicas and more as cover crops between the rows of his corn and soybeans. His hope is the right mix will mean he can stop applying pre-emergent herbicide.

In August, Biegler hosted about 60 farmers, agronomists and conservationists recently at a field day to discuss his work with soil-friendly cover crops and reduced tillage. Organized by the Soil Health Partnership, Biegler is one of 111 farmers across the country taking part in on-farm research through the Soil Health Partnership.

Biegler, who sits on the Minnesota Corn Growers Association board, is using the cover crop mixture on half of his total acres while going without pre-emergent on a small number of those acres, and so far, so good. If it works, it would mean big savings on his Lake Wilson farm.

Soil Health Partnership Director Nick Goeser was also on-hand for the event to discuss the far-reaching benefits of soil health. “Whatever improves our soil health is going to improve our weed management, our insect management, our disease management and all those other interactions that we have in our systems,” he said.

Also speaking at the field day, Brian Ryberg is a corn and soybean producer in Buffalo Lake who recently began using cover crops and strip tilling on his corn with tremendous cost-reduction benefits. By reducing his tilling alone, he went from putting roughly 430 hours on two tractors to only 200 hours on a single tractor, cutting both equipment and personnel costs.

An Innovation Grant Program participant, Ryberg was also able to cut time in the field by purchasing a seeder that allows him to plant cover crops on his corn acres while applying supplemental nitrogen early in the planting season. You can learn more about his project here.

Ryberg cites his cover crops as the reason he has reduced the rate of phosphorous and potassium fertilizer because he is losing far less soil.

For Biegler, the conservation practice of cover crops is also an economically savvy one. Calculating the money saved by preventing soil erosion and the possible savings in cutting pre-emergent herbicide more than compensates for the roughly $25 per acre cost for cover crop seed and application.

Goeser hopes the on-farm research like what is being conducted on Biegler’s farm will lead to more hard numbers behind the economic benefits of soil health.

“What does it mean to improve your aggregate stability? What does it mean to improve your water-holding capacity? We are trying to put the numbers to that,” Goeser said. “We are testing and taking a scientific approach so that what we recommend is a good, solid business practice.”

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