Guilette Farms experiment with cover crop mixture plots

By Jamie Fisher

Peninsula Pride Farms (PPF) and Door-Kewaunee Watershed Demonstration Farms Network co-hosted a field day on Nov. 1 at Guilette Farms in Casco, Wis. Over 30 attendees enjoyed a wagon ride touring multiple cover crop plots and learning about cover crop mixes and fertilizer rates.

Nick Guilette, a family partner on Guilette Farms, shared the farm’s experience with planting a variety of plant species on a minimum of one-acre plots. The farm planted over 14 experimental plots with various cover crop mixes. Guilette Farms’ conservation goal is to increase biomass and have a living root in the soil all year round.

Seeding type and rates

The first two plots consisted of a rye, turnip and radish mix. One field mixed in oats while the other mixed in barley, comparing the two mixes. It’s better to plant oats later in the season.

With cover crops, you can plant a little later and adjust your rate and depth.

“There’s no rule on getting a cover crop in by Aug. 15,” said Guilette.  

The next five plots were hand-mixed and consisted of 20 pounds of winter rye, with each plot planted with different rates of red clover, balansa clover, crimson clover, berseem clover or vetch.

The second plot with winter rye and balansa was slower at establishing. Balansa is more of a creeping clover and won’t produce as much nitrogen. The third plot had success on the crimson clover with the winter rye. Plot 4 had winter rye and Berseem clover, an upright clover.

The farm prefers more biomass. However, the downfall is it doesn’t survive well in the winter. The biomass will be the first thing to have contact with the soil. Plot 5 contained winter rye planted with vetch, which might have choked out the rye to some extent. This is designed to produce nitrogen for next year’s crop to have more biomass the following spring.

“The above-ground takes the majority of the nitrogen credit and breaks it down. Eventually, it will give it back to the next crop,” Bryan Decker with La Crosse Seed said.

Plot 6 was the first ‘premixed’ seed and planted tillage radish and crimson. It did just fine right out of the bag. Plot 7 was the same mixture, with the following plots just doubling and tripling the rate. These crops will become knee- or even waist-high.

By having biomass available year-round, the earthworms will hopefully remain active and increase bioactivity with the bugs and biology.

Fertilizer experiments

The next set of field plots consisted of Soil First 102 Cover Starter+ planted with winter rye, crimson clover and tillage radish.

These plots were planted with winter rye, barley, radish, turnips, berseem clover and crimson clover. Some plots experimented with fertilizer rates, starting with zero pounds of fertilizer for a check strip; followed by a plot each with 125 pounds of fertilizer, 250 pounds of fertilizer and 375 pounds of fertilizer.

Another plot was planted with defender oats, spring peas, balansa clover, crimson clover and tillage radish and used 58 pounds of Soil First 125 Nitrogen Hancer.  

All plots were sponsored by La Crosse Seed for supplying the seed and Rio Creek Feed Mill for supplying the fertilizer.

The plan for 2023 is to no-till plant green corn and pull PSNTs in spring. The goal is to have most of the cover crop survive the winter.

The Guilette Farms family enjoys experimenting with cover crop mixes to achieve their goals of improving soil health as they continue to strive for biodiversity.

As the sun set on the experiment plots, the event wrapped up with a meal sponsored by Rio Creek Feed Mill, and farmers shared their experiences with conservation to find what works on their farms.

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