Thinking outside the box to improve our land and water

By Steven Schauer for Peninsula Pride Farms

Peninsula Pride Farms has members who are doing their part to improve the land, water and air in our surrounding communities and these efforts, at times, takes some creative thinking. An intriguing discussion took place regarding planting cover crops into fourth-year alfalfa and co-planting soybeans and corn during Tuesday (Sept. 29) night’s Conservation Conversation co-hosted by Door-Kewaunee Demonstration Farm Network and Deer Run Dairy.

Derek Ducat, who oversees all crop management at Deer Run Dairy, has been working alongside crop adviser Nick Gillette and U.S. National Resources Conservation Service conservationist Barry Bubolz to try innovative conservation practices he has not used before.

The lifecycle of alfalfa usually lasts four years, but Ducat is working with several acres that are now in their sixth year and could last longer. The trio collaborated and planted a mixture of rye, purple top turnip, daikon radish and barley into alfalfa with the hope they would not have to spray off the alfalfa for a new crop. It worked because the alfalfa has thrived with the cover crop and is two years beyond the normal lifecycle.

What piqued the interest of other farms who attend the casual dialogue in a Kewaunee field was the health of the soil and the options it gives a farmer the following spring if the alfalfa does not grow well. Ducat also learned that killing off the alfalfa is not the best option, as was the standard practice for many years, because the crop is needed to keep nitrogen in the ground and hold water from running off.

Deer Run Dairy is also in the early testing stages of co-planting soybeans and corn to see if there are any benefits. While it has been less than two years during their trial-and-error phase of this plan, they have noticed corn maturity can be reduced because of the soybeans being incorporated as a cover crop. It was also stated that the corn appeared to be healthier in areas where the soybeans were co-planted. They are learning more about these companion crops when co-planted and witnessing the increased protein and digestibility levels.

9.29.20 Conservation Conversation

Derek Ducat on trying different practices and what he is learning

“We like to try different species in cover crops to see what benefit we can get out of each one. We are learning and looking back at our no-till fields and the cover crops we planted in the spring and it is amazing how some of our acres have changed from 10 years ago when we weren’t no-tilling and didn’t have cover crops planted.”

Barry Bubolz on cover crops and health of the water for the community

“Cover crops in our soil health initiative are extremely important. A benefit of cover crops is building the soil structure. Once we get the soil structure built, it can really help in protecting our water quality because we are getting better infiltration with our soils. So, instead of a lot of rainfall running off we can hold more rain in our soil profile, and it can infiltrate slowly. This is a positive to our streams and our communities.”

Barry Bubolz on communicating and getting farms to try different things

“With the demonstration farm network and PPF, it’s important to have the ability to share experiences from one year to another with your neighbor to learn the benefits. Farmers learning from each other and spreading the news is an effective way to create change in the agricultural community.”

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