Innovation Grant Spotlight: Making a better window for cover crops

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Innovation Grant Program participant Brock Olson has seen cover crops work well with corn and soybeans on his acres in Goodhue County. To give cover crops a longer period to flourish before the hard frost comes, Olson is adding winter rye to his rotation.

By adding a crop that is harvested in late July, Olson sees multiple benefits—arresting soil and nutrient loss, building up soil organic matter, and through his species mix, fixing additional nitrogen in the root zone. This will allow him to reduce surface-applied fertility, which will reduce the risk of nutrient loss into nearby water sources.

The Minnesota Corn Innovation Grant has paid for much of the seed and the planting, as well as additional soil tests for nutrients and water infiltration.

“What the Innovation Grant allows me to do is take a risk and try something new,” said Olson. “If you want to learn you have to try new things.”

This is the third year of his no-till corn and soybean farming. Cover crops have played a vital role in that time, demonstrated last year when an eight-inch single day rain caused zero soil erosion. He is no-till farming 400 acres for the 2018 season and hopes to cover crop a large percentage of it. The landowners he rents from share his passion for eliminating soil erosion and nutrient loss, which he hopes will lead to a great long term partnership.

After considerable research, Olson settled on a cover crop mix of sorghum sudangrass, radish, oats and winter peas. All these species will winter kill. He will no-till plant corn into what residue remains next spring. He’s planted soybeans into heavy cover crop residue, and that has worked well for him. He’s looking forward to seeing if he can make it work with corn.

Interested in putting your innovative idea to the test? The Minnesota Corn Innovation Grant Program is now accepting proposals for 2019 participants focused on preventing both nitrogen and phosphorous loss to ground and surface water. Learn more at mncorn.org/research.

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