Farmers talk no-till, cover crop benefits

MCCUTCHENVILLE – High-yield wheat production, cover crops and an overview of farming practices in Seneca County were topics at Tuesday’s Ohio No-Till Summer Field Day.

The event took place on the Margraf farm on SR 587 between New Riegel and McCutchenville.

The team presented a workshop Monday for about 100 area FFA students.

Among the key factors in wheat production are choosing seed, establishing the crop with proper nutrients and controlling disease – mainly head scab – said Chris Bowley, co-owner of Wheat-Tech, Russelville, Ky.

Bowley, who works as a consultant and conducts research on wheat, said the other are important, but head scab resistance is the vital key.

“There is no variety out there that is totally immune to head scab,” he said. “Scab’s an issue for me and it’ll be an issue for you.

“Scab is the most important disease to control. All the others are easy to control and of relatively minor importance.”

Bowley encouraged the use of no-till practices with wheat.

“There’s no reason you should not no-till wheat,” he said. “All things considered, no-till is better for wheat.”

Wheat may be planted in northern Ohio between Sept. 20 and Oct. 15, he said, so the plants get a good start before winter arrives.

“Depth control is the key to wheat surviving the winter,” he said. “You need to see an inch in the ground or an inch and half in the ground. That’s under the ground, not under the residue.”

Aphid control also is important, he said.

“Little tiny insects out in my wheat. Can that really hurt me? The answer is yes,” he said.

They are black or green about an eighth-inch long.

“It’s very cheap to do something about aphids,” he said. “It’s very expensive to let aphids out in your field for any length of time.”

In summary, Bowley said head scab is the main problem in wheat production, but yields add up for good managers of other details as well.

“But you can maybe add five bushels per acre because you did each step properly,” he said. “It’s attention to detail. It’s treating it like you treat corn. You can make that 80-100 bushel-plus wheat.”

A main focus for the Margrafs is keeping wheat in their crop rotation, and maximizing yields.

Field day host Bret Margraf said he and his father have been no-tilling since 2000, producing corn, soybeans and wheat.

“When we made the commitment to no-till it was purely driven by time,” he said, because he and his father both worked full time.

As an employee of Seneca Soil & Water Conservation District, Margraf learned the benefits of no-till from then-co-worker Lynn Eberhard and others.

He said they also have experimented with cover crops.

“We started with radishes,” he said. “Now we know we need a few companion crops with it. We’re throwing nutrients out there. We want to make sure it’s still there in the spring.”

He said no-till and cover crops improve soil structure.

As an SWCD technician, Margraf presented information on tillage practices in Seneca, Crawford and Wyandot counties from a set of points known as the Sanduskry River Tillage Transect.

“We go back to these same points year in and year out,” he said. At each data collection, a technician notes what crop was planted, the level of residue remaining from a previous crop and the tillage practice used.

There are 542 points in Seneca County, 563 in Sandusky County and 541 in Wyandot.

Data show producers are skipping the wheat in the traditional three-crop rotation of corn, soybeans and wheat.

“We really need that three-crop rotation,” he said. ” We need more than corn and soybeans because it’s not going to be sustainable.”

In addition, Margraf said continuous no-till isn’t a popular option in Seneca County.

“Only 28 percent of soybeans in Seneca County were not-tilled in 2013,” he said. “Less than 5 percent at those points that we collet have had no disturbance for three to four years in a row.”

Another topic Tuesday was soil health and manure application, including “slurry seeding” of cover crops while applying manure.

“The bottom line is manure and cover crops are great companions and play a big role in improving soil health,” said Tim Harrigan, Extension biosystems and agriculture engineer from Michigan State University. “There are also different options for doing it.”

Harrigan provided specifics on the best types of manure and the best cover crops.

He said it’s important to prevent overflow when applying manure.

“It’s a great source of nutrients and organic matter, but when it leaves the field surface it becomes a contaminant,” he said. “The bottom line is we want to distribute manure through the root zone.”

Harrigan said several YouTube videos can be viewed by searching Midwest Cover Crop Council.

Also on the topic of manure, Glen Arnold, OSU Extension field specialist, provided specifics on side dressing corn with liquid manure.

He said studies show little difference in yield between using commercial nitrogen and using liquid manure.

“In years ahead I expect we will put manure on corn the day after its planted on more and more acreage across the state of Ohio,” he said.

Other topics covered were tips on managing crop residue on fields, soil drainage research by Kevin King of the soil drainage research unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and afternoon field sessions included above- and below-ground benefits of cover crops.