By Anne Moore
Farmers in the Door-Kewaunee peninsula are trying new conservation practices like managed grazing and interseeding cover crops into corn to enhance soil quality. Peninsula Pride Farms (PPF) hosted 45 attendees at a two-site field event followed by a member picnic on Aug. 30 in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
Brey Cycle Farm hosted a soil pit demonstration and shared their experience with managed grazing. The farm implemented managed grazing in the fall of 2020. The farm planted the pasture where the event was held in the middle of June with a summer annual cocktail mix. It has sorghum, Sudangrass, forage rape, hairy vetch, purple top turnip, radishes and clover. It was seeded down after winter rye was harvested. There was a lot of healthy plant material growing, and it does a nice job of soaking up the heat in the later part of summer.
Jacob Brey, co-owner, shared that the farm investigated grazing to reduce the costs of raising replacement dairy heifers, as well as for soil health benefits.
“Managed grazing fit both of those goals very well,” Brey said. “We had some marginal land here on this farm that we thought that we could do some different conservation practices with it in order to improve the yield and profitability.”
Jamie Patton with the Nutrient Pest Management Program at UW-Madison talked about the effects on the soil from the use of a diverse cover crop mix used to graze heifers. She said the use of a multi-species cover crop mix can start to repair some of the compaction that the soil incurred after years of row crop farming. The soil pit showed there is still a lot of compaction at the surface, but the very diverse root systems are helping to alleviate that compaction.
The soil profile started to get crumblier as it got deeper. Patton showed there were roots as deep as seven or eight feet down in the profile, which was a good sign. This creates better aggregation which allows for better air and water movement as well as prolific root growth.
Interseeding cover crops into corn to protect soil through spring
Part two of the field day was at Olson Family Farms. Eric Olson brought attendees to a standing corn field that had growing cover crops in between the rows. The farm used a no-till drill from the Brown County Soil and Water Department in mid-July to plant red clover, crimson clover and annual ryegrass into standing corn when it was at the V4 stage.
The farm hopes this cover will survive through winter to protect and enhance the soils health and prevent erosion until they plant green beans in June next year. The interseeding at this point was short — maybe two or three inches tall. But once the corn is chopped off, it will open it up to the sun and start to grow. It should get to 10 or 12 inches tall by fall, and therefore it will survive the winter.
Before the member picnic, Barry Bubolz from the NRCS gave a short presentation with a rainfall simulator. He took samples from both Brey and Olson’s farms, including a multi-species cover crop, conventionally tilled soil, no-tilled corn after winter wheat, cover crops interseeded into corn and another no-till sorghum and rye double crop.
It was clear that the conventionally tilled soil had the most runoff. The living root samples that had a cover had very little to no runoff. The back side of the demonstration showed the infiltration ability of each sample. The two samples with mature cover crops had the most water that went through to the back bucket, meaning that soil would be able to hold the rain and store it for a longer period until the crop would need the moisture.
Peninsula Pride Farms hosts field events almost every month during the summer. If you’re interested in learning more about the group and conservation practices for soil health, you can visit www.peninsulapridefarms.org.