“Recently I bought a piece of land that most of it has been hay land for generations. So there’s been a lot of nutrients exported and I’ve been trying to intentionally replace nutrients. I was just wondering what kind of a cover crop strategy would you employ on something like that given the season, particularly for fall grazing? When would you sow? What would you sow? What kind of mixes? How much per acre? Mainly to be harvested as standing stockpile by cows and some sheep. How would you approach this piece of land that’s mostly 85% to 90% crested wheat at this point? What kind of cover crops would you introduce and why?” – Clay Conry, Host of Working Cows Podcast
Dr. Kevin Sedivec joins us to help answer Clay’s question. Dr. Sedivec is the Extension Rangeland Management Specialist at North Dakota State University Extension and Director of the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center. You may remember him from Episode 006 of Soil Sense Season 2.
Dr. Sedivec shares that this is a common obstacle faced by producers. In trying to rejuvenate pastures for grazing, producers are asking annuals to compete with long established perennials. The perennial plants will take up water and will have contributed to a nitrogen deficient soil. Typically these long established perennials are exotic in origin and therefore do not have a natural symbiosis established with the environment.
“So you’re asking a grass to do something in that soil that it doesn’t naturally do because it’s not native. It becomes deficient of fertility is what’s really driving this. So we’re trying to bring something in to enhance that soil microbial population….the most common (legume) used is alfalfa.” – Dr. Kevin Sedivec
Unfortunately the long term fix for deficient soils takes more than one season. Dr. Sedivec recommends beginning with a legume mix to start the process. There are regional variations with which legume mix will be most successful and Dr. Sedivec recommends contacting your local NRCS or extension agent to find what suits your situation best. In Clay’s case he recommends using a yellow blossom alfalfa at 10 pounds per acre and either seeding in the fall or early spring.
“That will give them a long term fix of a legume with his grass. We’re putting exotics and exotics but it at least will help him, one, in terms of production and, two, it will help him in terms of soil fertility and soil microbial activity to kind of get that soil back into a healthy state.” – Dr. Kevin Sedivec
Ideally we would like to add more species to the mix but according to Dr. Sedivec “that’s probably the best we can do to enhance (Clay’s) production and quality in those soils in that stand.” Adding nitrogen can also help with helping to build the soils. An additive, such as urea, will not last long term but will provide benefit for the new crops planted as you build your soil. Strategies can be adjusted for more long term management including cover crops as the soils change.
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Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.