by Jane Primerano

The recent 2018 North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development winter conference focused on no-till planting and the need for cover crops.

Presenter Eric Rosenbaum of Rosetree Consulting LLC asked the questions he always asks farmers: what three things are they going to try in order to have a more successful farm next season?

It could be something simple or complicated, but the exercise helps farmers think logically as they figure out where they are going to have the most success.

“Maximum yield may not be the economically optimal yield,” Rosenbaum said, noting reaching one’s economic goals is a slow process. That’s especially true of the no-till planting movement, which was first introduced in 1962 but took 30 years to become widespread.

Rosenbaum said about 85 percent of the farmers he works with use no-till practices and they all faced challenges requiring trial and error as well as education in fields such as seed genetics, herbicides and fungicides.

The transition to no-till requires what Rosenbaum called “a logical, metered approach.”

No-till is rewarding for many reasons, he said, citing some corn statistics showing the best yields coming from no-till fields because they have the best soil health.

Soil health is a big reason. That term was coined by the North Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rosenbaum said, and it caught on as an accurate distillation of the problems and needs of the soil.

Because no-till farming’s benefits are amplified by cover crops, Rosenbaum talked about some of the farmers’ need to increase soil organic matter, reduce the loss of surface-applied nutrients, improve soil characteristics, agronomic resiliency and soil microbial interaction. Cover crops help with all of these goals, Rosenbaum said, but farmers need “tinkering time” to choose the best covers and the best planting times. They need to pay attention to the details of nitrogen application and find the right tools. They can also use models to predict the results of nitrogen application by various methods.

None of this is simple, Rosenbaum emphasized, since farmers need to predict the maturity dates of their cash crop before they decide on a cover crop. They must make choices of herbicides and planting equipment. A termination schedule needs to be set up for winter kill, which varies based on the species of cover crop used. Covers like winter wheat can regrow after harvest, so an herbicide application may be necessary.

“There aren’t many choices,” Rosenbaum said. A glyphosate will probably be necessary and that means tricky conditions for spraying and the necessity for testing water. Glyphosates may only be applied with a daytime temperature of more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a night temperature of more than 35 degrees.

Nozzles and pressure can guarantee full coverage, he said. He cautioned that even annual ryegrass can become a weed, so careful application is essential.