Experimenting with cover crops in snap beans

By Anne Moore

Bryersquart Farm is trying new conservation practices with its green bean crop. Peninsula Pride Farms’ member, Scott Jeanquart, hosted a Conservation Conversation on July 26 showcasing a field where he had planted snap beans into a winter rye cover crop.

The field where the event was held showcased three different actions being trialed. The entire field was planted with 130 pounds per acre of winter rye cover crop with the intent to harvest for forage. In early June, the canning plant purchasing the snap beans told Jeanquart that they needed the field ready by June 23 for planting snap beans. The first portion of the rye was harvested, baled and conventional tilled. Part of the field was vertical-tilled, while the final portion was roller crimped with the rye residue left on top.

This practice of leaving cover crop residue and planting snap beans is not common for vegetable growers in the area, which led to a great discussion.

The rye was about four-feet tall when crimped and the bean planter came in. The rye was still green, creating a challenge for the planting. There was less opportunity for seed to soil contact, meaning less of the snap bean seeds were planted. Instead, the seeds sat on top of the rye.

The group also learned that when planting a cover crop with any crop used for human food consumption the farmer must be careful about gluten contamination. There are four small grains that can cause this issue: barley, wheat, rye and triticale. The challenge is if any seeds are produced on those four crops when the beans are being harvested, the cover crop heads will get into the crop. If the processor can’t get the seeds cleaned out, it will be turned away due to the contamination.

A solution presented to the group to avoid contamination is terminating the cover crop before it goes to a reproductive state or planting oats or sorghum Sudan grass as the cover crop, since those do not cause a gluten issue.

The group also learned about the different classes of green beans. The type being grown on Bryersquart Farm is a five-sieve bean, the largest diameter bean grown. They are usually cut into sections for freezing and canning or sliced the long way to make French style. The beans grown by Jeanquart are all sent to Lakeside Foods in Manitowoc.  

Jeanquart shared he still wants a way to keep a cover on his fields year-round to help the soil but would try something different next time.

“After learning about the gluten issue, we would probably try oats because they are easier to work with, cheaper to plant and definitely plant a lot thinner, or less pounds per acre,” Jeanquart said.

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