“I learned a lesson from the biggest failure I ever had. Always balance your cover crops with grasses and legumes. Always. You don’t have to have a whole lot of grass, but you need enough there to have that carbon to make it work for you.”
— Dave Brandt, No-Till Legend, Carroll, Ohio
No-Till Legend Dave Brandt of Carroll, Ohio, showed the farming community the tremendous value of cover crops and regenerative practices in improving soil health. Brandt passed away unexpectedly in late May of 2023, leaving behind a legacy of challenging status quo farming methods and providing mentorship to countless farmers.
Today’s episode of the podcast, brought to you by The Andersons, features audio from a presentation Brandt gave at the 2019 National No-Tillage Conference, teaching no-tillers how to find success with interseeding cover crops.
Click here to read more about Brandt’s legacy and to see more articles, videos and presentations from throughout his career. Click here to see Brandt's slides from the presentation featured in this episode.
No-Till Farmer podcast series is brought to you by The Andersons.
A thoughtful, well-designed nutrient management program is essential to maximize crop productivity. Providing the right nutrients at the right time throughout the growing season is key to achieving high yields. The Andersons High Yield Programs make it easy to plan season-long nutrient programs for corn, soybeans, wheat and many specialty crops. Visit AndersonsPlantNutient.com/HighYield to get instant recommendations to improve your nutrient efficiency and yields.
Full TranscriptMichaela Paukner:
Welcome to the No-Till Farmer Podcast, brought to you by the Andersons. I'm Michaela Paukner, managing editor at No-Till Farmer. In today's episode of the podcast, we're remembering Dave Brandt, the no-till legend from Carroll, Ohio who passed away unexpectedly in late May of 2023.
Dave showed the farming community the tremendous value of cover crops in regenerative practices and improving soil health, and he was always willing to share his knowledge with other farmers. This episode is just that. Here's the audio from a national no-tillage conference presentation Dave gave about interseeding cover crops.Dave Brandt:
It's a great honor to be here to speak to all of you. Hopefully, you can pick the little things out of what I'm going to try to show you here today. We've not been totally satisfied with the things we're doing as interseedings. There's a lot we have to discuss and understand what to do before we decide to do this. It seems like when we decide to do it or when another farmer calls us, it's time to do the seeding. He hadn't even thought about what he's going to do and what he's going to seed.
The first thing we ask is, "What's your herbicide program?" Well, you may have to call my agronomist. Then the next question you ask is, "How long is the residual in the soil." Gee, I don't know. What has been there in the past? That's why sometimes we have not had success because we tend to jump into these things way prior to making plans. If you're planning to do interseedings, I think it's probably a year, year and a half away if you're just getting started.
To understand where you've been, understand what herbicides you've used, try to do that research and see how long the residuals last. Those residuals dependent on organic matter, will not last as long. If you have 0.5% organic matters, they're going to be there probably 18 or 24 months. If you got 8% of organic matter, they're probably there 30 or 40 days just because of the critters in the soil eating those biologicals up.
I always like to start with the farm picture. We do have cover crop, just wanted to show you that. We practice what we preach. We have a great farmstead. We did have 1,100 acres as of '16. In '17 and '18, we're down to 600. What happened to the 600 beside it? It now has 3,976 homes on it. We are still diversifying our operation. We didn't have much livestock. We did find out that those 3,000 and some homes tend to have credit cards. They seem to like pumpkins, they seem to like free-range turkeys.
A turkey will eat up an awful lot of spilled corn or grain around the facility. They follow you like a dog. If you leave your truck door open or your tractor door open, they're sitting in the seat and wanting to go somewhere. At Thanksgiving time, we have them come and they pick out their turkey. We put a little name bag on their leg of the turkey and ask them for $120. Have them butcher it and then they take it home. We're learning to diversify not only in the soils but also in our operation.
If you're not the luxury of having homes, you can't pull off some of these things. But I'm not ready to move yet, so I'm going to put up with it. That's just a little brief thing. Farmers are innovative and we're going to talk, we're going to show some equipment. This is early things, early adapters, how do we get it done? That's the question. Everything's happened because row cleaners came, because farmers did it. It's not because Dawn did it, they just picked up and went ahead and manufactured it. Farmers are inventors.
We make things work. We're going to talk about different equipment, we're going to talk about how to get it done. Interseeding things, we have to look at plants that'll grow in shade. You just can't take a sorghum-sedan out there and plant it and hope the hell it's going to grow, because it just ain't going to make it. We have to look at species that's going to grow under this kind of cover. We're not going to get the benefit out of this cover in an interseeding situation as we would in a three-year rotation where you could put the cover in after the small grain.
It's going to give you some benefit but not as much. But anything that's better than what we're doing if you're still conventional tillage. Farmers are innovative. This happened to be an old detassler. Guy put an interseeder on it and we're off and running. In this case, we're looking probably using ryegrass, maybe white clover, maybe arrowleaf clover. Maybe some winter peas if it's going to rain. If it's not going to rain, don't use a big seeded plant. Use seeds that's small. That's why clovers seemed to work better, all kinds of clovers.
Those are the things we want to look at. It's hard to establish ryes and hairy vetches, and cowpeas and those kinds of things because they need seed-to-soil contact, and we just can't do that with an interseeder. The interseeder we have, it had a Montag air box on it. It's a 90-foot boom and it would have about 35 mile an hour wind speed at the drop. If we happen to be in a muddy field, we could actually get some seed-to-soil contact. If it's dry, it just bounces off the ground because it's hard.
Other methods, no-till drills is big on the scene. I still think this is a nice way to do it. You can lower your seed cost. You know it's in the soil, it's going to grow. Now it won't grow as fast in the fall because you don't have the time. You only got that 30-day window or 45-day window or 10-day window before it freezes, but at least we're getting something out there to control erosion. Maybe pick up five or six pounds of nitrogen, maybe pick up a little phosphorus. But the big thing is we're starting to build soil health.
We're starting to build aggregate in the soil to make this work. This happened to be, this is the way a lot of it's done. I'm telling you what, in 1985 when we did this, that was the biggest disaster we ever saw. Because our pilots had never seen cover crops coming out of an ass end of an airplane. They do a really good job putting it on a neighbor. There's nothing any worse than to have a conventional neighbor have rye or ryegrass or weeds, that he calls, in his field. Today's technology is 300% better than it was in '85.
We have pilots today that can put it where it belongs just because we've changed that much. In these situations, you have to up the seeding rate. This is probably going to be a 30% more seeding rate than you would if you used a drill. I know most pilots are rate per acre plus poundage they haul, so you have to take all these things into consideration. The biggest drawback I see is where guys are trying to fly things in soybeans, and they want to fly right after fungicide application.
That's usually the last of August, the first of September. We're flying rye and we're flying clovers, and we're flying everything that'll go in in these soybean fields, because we got yellow leaves and the leaves are starting to drop. We get a rainfall event like in '18, and it rains for 45 days. You don't harvest the beans and there's still beans in the field because there's cover crop there. Now it's frosted off so they're able to cut it.
But I've seen cover crop in bean fields a foot tall. There's nothing any more disappointing than to have a farmer that's trying a cover crop the first time and he can't get his crop harvested. All he's doing is calling you up and kicking you in the ass saying, "You told me the wrong thing." No, I didn't tell you the wrong thing. You just got to learn to manage it. I think you should fly on about two and a half or three weeks before you harvest just in case the weather man's wrong. I blame the weather man.
He's the one that told us it wasn't going to rain anymore. Then we have a six-inch deluge. Learn to manage as you use these cover crops. Corn's a different situation. We've had cover crop in corn three foot tall at harvest, hasn't affected harvest. Depends on how good of rolls you got in the header, but if it's the kind that has a little divot in it and it collects, they make nice little round bales you've ever seen about every 50 feet. But you learn to change them and adjust them and go on.
Those are the problems you see. A clean field of corn is fun to run. A field with three foot cover crop in it, this is a little more challenging. It can be done. I really dislike a helicopter. We've never had much success in our area. Maybe there's some helicopter pilots who are doing a better job now. We use them because most of our fields are 10 acres with woods all the way around and the plane can't get in, but a helicopter actually stirs the air in two directions as it runs.
As that cover crop comes out of those dispersers on each side of the plane, it don't go straight down. It fluffs down or falls down because it's in that turbulence. With a plane, you got that airflow driving towards the ground. All kind of ideas, I don't know why the guy took his tank and boom off. This would be fun. Every round you'd have to crawl out of the cab and put something in the spreader, but he was getting the job done. These are early innovators, guys. I want to show you how far we've come with ideas from producers.
Again, look at the cover you want to put in there. Look at what you're going to use. Look at low canopy things that like shade. If you're going into corn fields and you've got 40,000 plants and they tend to be an umbrella leaf type, I would not do it because it's not going to get any sunlight. If it happens to be at 32,000 or less with upright leaves and the bottom two or three leaves are yellow, you're going to have success especially if it rains.
All of this is related to weather that I'm showing you so far, because everything's just laying on the surface broadcast. Stauffer's come up with some good things, this is great, just imagine how much you could do after fall harvest. The key to this tool and this guy hadn't done it because I can tell you he's way too damn deep. I haven't seen the tool, I just seen the picture, but how do I know it's too deep? Right there, he's running four and a half inches deep, probably running 6, 7, 8 mile an hour.
You don't need to do that, guys. Set that thing in about an inch, just like a fluted coulter drill would run. Just fluff that residue on the surface, blow the cover crop in there and let it go. There's no more disturbance than a no-till drill with a fluted coulter. If you're four inches deep, you're moving all that soils. You're losing all the microbial activity because you've added air to it. The microbes get active, they eat each other, and you go backwards for three or four weeks.
Another in Great Plains is doing a great job. These are all things that's come on the scene in the last three to four years. I don't know what this octopus is, but it looks pretty good. I guess it's like a 40-foot vertical tillage tool. There's the air box. I don't know how you get in there to fill it. You must after you spread it out. It's probably close enough you can get something to it, but here this guy's giving it a shot. Actually all this does, is actually lays down corn fodder.
It moves a little bit of soil but not too much. This happened to be an airway tool or like an airway tool design. Here they're working real well, putting interseeders on. Like I say, look at ryegrass, look at maybe arrowleaf clover, maybe some of those things that's small growing that can tolerate the shade. I thought this was a great innovation. Here we got a drill box, grass seeder box. We got a rotary hoe. In our area, they're setting the weeds everywhere, everywhere.
Guess what? He's blowing this seed down in front or dribbling this seed down in front of those rotary hoe wheels. They're putting a hole in the ground probably half-inch deep, quarter-inch deep depending on how the soils are, how hard they are, but he's getting the seed incorporated. They take off the rotary hoe between the rows and go like gangbusters. Again, big thing here, we could probably get away with a bigger seed like a winter pea, maybe like a cowpea depending on the planting time.
Here we are looking, this should give us a long growing window. We want to look at some warm season covers with some cool season covers. The reason is I want to fool mother... Well, I shouldn't say that out loud. I want to fool mother nature. Because if you look at a woodlot, and I haven't set any woodlot pictures, but if you look at a woodlot, there's about 16 or 20 different species. The trees are all different sizes, and they sell lumber out there and they never fertilized it.
Why can't we do that with our cover crops? If we plant warm seeds and cool things together and we have 100 degree temperature, our warm season stuff's going to do extremely well. Our cool season stuff's going to get deterred because it's too hot. Then we have opposite years where we never get above 80 degrees, so guess what? The cool season legumes and grasses we plant only get to be 18 to 20 inches tall. The cool season things like oats and rye, and triticale and clovers get three and four foot tall.
We got something growing. I guess I'm the kind of guy, if we put enough out there, three things grow, I'm fine. Six of them die, that's too damn bad, but normally they don't. Farmers are innovative. I wouldn't want to do 1,000 acres this way. But if you're a 200 or 300 acre farmer and he happens to be blowing ryegrass in about two and a half or three pound per acre. He says he can dump his bin three times before he has to put ryegrass in the box.
When he's done shelling corn, guess what? His cover crop's planted. I really like this one. I guess I like the tracks, I like it big. But look here, he's putting this air system on the back and he's blowing a seed underneath the header. Lots of good ideas. He's got some stomp trumpers under there too. Actually what he's doing, he's got his air tube ahead of the things that's stomped down the residue. What is he doing? He's pushing his seed in the ground.
Really great ideas. This is how we can become successful. This is another one. I have enough trouble watching the front end of the combine. I don't know what the hell I'd do with something like that on the back end, but guys are a lot smarter than I am. I really like this machine. These are great. This happens to be he's still got his sprayer tank on there, but he's got a little air tank back here on the back, and what we got here is we got Dawn openers on here.
What he's doing is blowing the seed in the ground with the openers, and then our next picture should show the wide drops. He's putting nitrogen, look at how close to that corn row we could be with the nitrogen. He's side dressing, so why not do two things at once? Why not pick that out and make it work? He don't need a large air tank for his seed because he's putting 28 on. He is probably filling up more often, so that's why he can go with a smaller tank on the equipment.
No one understands how tough it is to go back to here. After you're done spraying, you pull this thing underneath the shade tree and you get a block and tackle. You lift that tank off of there, and you take all the hoses off and put air tubes on. It's not much fun to change them back and forth, guys. It's one way to get more acres out of it, but that just don't happen in an hour. Of course, Hadey's come out with their machine. We finally got interested. It's great to have those guys help engineer this stuff.
Here these tubes go in between the rows. There's a little piece of metal here at the bottom of this tube, it's like a deflector. It's bent on a 30-degree angle so when that seed hits it, it goes both directions. It actually makes about a 10 or 12-inch band of cover crops going down between the rows. This is Michigan State's operation. What they do when they're spreading manure, they have been putting rye in there using an airway. They put cover crop in there all at the same time. It can be done.
You got to have a pretty good circulation pump on that manure tank when you dump rye in there though. But we're only talking maybe 200 or 300-pound rye per tankful, maybe not that much depending on the gallons they're putting on. This is Dawn's interseeder, this happens to be from Pennsylvania. A real good friend of ours put this together. They use a Valmar seeder. They have two rows. Some guys are trying to do three. Fleming's coming out with a real nice looking apparatus that'll be introduced at the Louisville Farm Show.
A series of four to six discs with a seeder hook to it. You can lightly incorporate that in between the rows, I think it's 20 inches wide. Then we go down 30-inch corn rows. Here's another fella, a little more innovative. He happened to have a three-point hitch on the front of the tractor, so he put his spreader on there. He can likely cultivate corn. This is a conventional farmer trying to learn how to use cover crop, which is a good thing. This is Penn State's interseeder they designed and built.
It's a small unit but does a nice job. But as we look at this, this corn's probably only two and a half, three weeks old. Remember your herbicide program. You're not putting 10 pounds of atrazine on there and hope to get a cover crop to grow. You have to understand that. I don't know, I'm having some problems with glyphosate and Roundup. Is it going to be residual in the soil long enough to kill it when we do it that small? We're seeing a lot of cover crops being taken out from residual Roundup. At least I think it is.
No one's told me I've been wrong, but nobody said I was right either. Again, here's the unit with another interseeder. This happened to be a bigger one. There's all kind of ways to get this done. I must tell you, not every year is successful. Not every year is successful. We're running about 79% successful. This year was great. It rained all fall and we couldn't harvest a crop. We got really good cover crop. Last year, it was dryer than a fart in the winter or summer or fall, and we didn't get nothing.
But those are the deals. It's just like if you have a bad corn stand or you get a wet hole, you replant it so you learn to do that. You learn to cope with this and don't call up and cry if it didn't work. Learn what you did wrong and change that. Sometimes you replant it, it still don't work. This guy happened to have a three-point on the front of his tractor, so he's got coulters. This was a 7,000 planter frame that he left the coulters on, and he's got drill boxes sitting there.
The drive wheel runs the drill boxes. As he's putting his nitrogen on, he's sowing his cover crop. We could do it with knife applications and I've not seen these personally, but I stole them off the internet so you guys could get an idea of what you could look for, look what you could do. Anything to save time and save trips. I love this one, I'd love to have one of these. This guy, this has to be the smartest guy I've ever seen. You put a little seed in a box right down here. Here's where the seed comes out.
He goes down that row. Evidently, he's got enough GPS or something. I'd hate to get him out in a 200-acre field and have him make a U-turn because you never would find him. But if he would get to each end, the thing you have to remember, you have no end rows here. There's a lot of guys that don't have any end rows in their fields, but to me this is great. I could sit in the house and mother and I can have a conversation or I could eat more food. You see I do enjoy that. There's all kind of things we can do.
There's all kind of cover crops we can use. Here's the results we're trying to find. This is ideal after harvest. We got about three or four or five inches of growth. We got the ground covered. If you look there, we have radishes, we have rye. There happens to be Ethiopian cabbage. A lot of different things we can do out here to make this work, as long as you find plants that'll grow under cover. It takes a while, you got to experiment on your own farm to find out. You can talk to your seed dealer and see what he recommends.
Look at the canopy heights, look how much leaves it has on it. Find out if it's rated for shade. Find out if it's rated for dry weather. That's why I tend to like warm season legumes and grasses and corn, because normally the surface is a little drier. It's a little hotter, especially if it's conventional. Guess what? Cowpeas and sorghum-sedan, three-tenths of an inch of water and 90 to 100 degree weather, it'll grow like gangbusters.
90 degree temperature and three-tenths of an inch of water with a cowpea or a winter pea won't grow. It won't even make it break open and sprout. That's why we like diversity in our covers, looking at things that happen. I think that's a great stand. That's enough to protect the soil. We have crimson clover right here growing. And if you happen to have lots of houses or a lot of floral departments where people like to buy flowers and give to other people, guess what?
If you got grandkids, you put 10 of them in a bundle, take it to your floral department. 10 of them in a bundle is $2.50. Get enough grandkids you could pay for the cover crop. Yeah, right. Right. But just imagine that right after you get done harvest. The neat thing about all these cover crops that's interseeded, they look like crap standing in the corn and bean field. Immediately after you cut that residue off, shell that crop or cut those beans, those cover crops become a magic something. They grow like gangbusters.
In a week, they'll triple their size. In two weeks, they'll be four times higher, and then we're doing some good with what's going on. This is late seeded. This was probably done two and a half weeks before the corn was shelled. We got germination, took the corn off, didn't see it, and two weeks later, there it is. In this case, we always go back to beans. We're always trying to use a grass to salvage some of that nitrogen, to hold it for the soybeans to make them yield more. Here's what it looks like as they grow.
This happened to be some soybeans that we had blown in just to see if we could build some nitrogen for the corn, and that's about 70% successful. If it's a wet spring or a wet summer, the soybeans don't give any nitrogen to the corn or the corn don't take it. If it's a dry summer, the corn will take nitrogen away from the beans. If you plant soybeans and expect to grow nitrogen, and you pull the combine out there and there's more pods than you see corn, you probably should have harvested the beans and that happens.Michaela Paukner:
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The Andersons' high-yield programs make it easy to plan season-long nutrient programs for corn, soybeans, wheat, and many specialty crops. Visit andersonsplantnutrient.com/highyield to get an instant recommendation to improve your nutrient efficiency and yields. Now let's get back to the conversation.Dave Brandt:
This is ryegrass, this happened to be with a drill, but I'm not a real component of ryegrass as far as in our cover crop system. I really like it where we're doing interseedings. It will tolerate the shade. It doesn't get as big, so it's not as hard for me to control in this next spring. It does a lot of things.
It will have a root 18 to 24 inches deep or 30, and it'll only be three or four inches tall, so those are some of the things that we can do. Like I said, we talked about clovers, small seeded or high number seeds per pound is what you want to be looking for. None of this 3,000 or 4,000 seeds per pound. Look for 300, 400, 500,000 seeds and you can get it to come up.Michaela Paukner:
At this point in the presentation, Dave started taking audience questions. Some were a little hard to hear on the recording, so I'm going to repeat them for you. The first question was do you use coated cover crop seed?Dave Brandt:
I have been, yes. We're changing from coated clover to buy just straight, and then we'll coat it ourselves or put the things on it. The reason I think it's more expensive. You get less pounds of seed. I think things you need to look at is talk to your seed supplier. Because if you look at radish seed for example, radishes if they're cleaned, they're about 22,000 to 26,000 seeds per pound.
But the seconds that come off the smaller seed is like 44,000 to 50,000 seeds per pound still has same germination but they're seconds. Guess what that means n an airplane? Of course, you're going to have to check the germ and all that stuff and make sure there's no weeds in it, but those are things you need to consider as you're looking to do interseedings.Michaela Paukner:
What early interseeding cocktails work best for you?Dave Brandt:
I like annual ryegrass at probably two to three pounds. I like Versene clover at a pound and a half to two pounds. I like radish seeds at three quarters of a pound. I enjoy balansa clover at a half a pound because balansa clover tends to grow, if you happen to have a place in the field that has a wet pocket. Clover seems to stand in that wet pocket a lot better than anything else we use. There's 462,000 seeds in a pound, so you don't need very many of them.
It's four bucks a pound, so don't put very many on. Crimson clover works well. Not a big fan of red clover or mammoth clover, but if that's what's available, I wouldn't be afraid to use it. It don't like the shade very well. A little harder to establish but if it's all there is, that's better than nothing. I like arrowleaf clover. I also like things like birdsfoot trefoil. Now we don't get as much nitrogen from that, but it does tolerate the shade.
It does tend to stay there a little longer in the field. It may become a weed, so you have to be careful with that. Rape or canola is another good one. I like Ethiopian cabbage, especially if it's getting later where we don't have time enough to get that radish to develop very big. If you're in the last of September, I drop the radishes and put Ethiopian cabbage and rape in. If it's August, I'd leave them two out and use radishes.
That's a gamut, a bunch of and there's others that I would suggest, but depending on your location and your weather conditions and those kinds of things.Michaela Paukner:
What kind of roller crimper do you use?Dave Brandt:
The crimper we use is called an I&J made out of Gap, Pennsylvania, I&J Manufacturing. It's designed off the Rodale design out of Rodale, and I really like it because it crimps the plant about every five and a half or six inches. There's other rollers. They don't work quite as well, I don't think.
We've had a lot of them on the farms during our field days, but the I&J seems to do the best job of crimping, if the plant is not to the stage it wants to be crimped and we can go just a little bit earlier. Everything crimps really well if it's in full bloom, but sometimes we just don't have that kind of weather conditions.Michaela Paukner:
Is annual ryegrass the only cover crop you seed early?Dave Brandt:
The question was is annual ryegrass the only one we use early. Really, ryegrass is the only one we use as an interseeder grass early. Now we do some rye, we'll do some oats, but not to a large extent.
I don't think you want to do that where you're doing seedings when it's only eight to 10 inches tall or knee-high, because I'm afraid, I'm really afraid some of those cool season grasses if we have the right weather, can canopy the corn.Michaela Paukner:
Here, an attendee told Brant he sees differences in different types of white clover cover crops, an observation Brandt agreed with.Dave Brandt:
There's different versions of these plants, like the white clover he's working with is probably a Dutch white clover, which is smaller, has smaller leaves. There's white clovers that have a larger leaf that does not take the shade and will not work as well. A lot of this stuff is trial and error, because this is all so new that there's very little research being done by the universities. Most of it's done by us as producers sharing our information with other farmers.
This program covers such a large range of area, that what might work for me in Ohio may not be something you can find where you're located, so you need to look at different type of things. But remember, keep the seed size small and I think that way you're more successful with an interseeder type of deal. But my biggest concern is guys, forget about the herbicides they're using prior to these interseedings.Michaela Paukner:
Do growth regulators help?Dave Brandt:
I think if you're in the first year or two of your cover crop program where you're doing interseedings to get started, yes, I think they'll help you. If you've been in a program with cover crops for more than four years, they tend to be a detriment. They tend to reduce what we're trying to do. Because what they do, they lower our microbial herb because they cause damage somehow. In our soils, we have living organisms weight-wise that equal four cows and four calves per acre.
Our soils today at home is seven degrees warmer than my neighbor's conventional field. My neighbor's conventional field, this morning I talked to my wife. She said there was a skip of snow and they had white ground where it was conventional, and we still have green cover. She said you can't tell it snowed on our farm. Why is that? We have that microbial herb under there creating heat, because there's the living organism and that's what we're trying to build.
We're trying to build the microbe community to help feed our crops so we can lower our biotin inputs and it's a slow process. Yes, sir.Michaela Paukner:
Will triticale work?Dave Brandt:
Triticale might work, I believe so. I wouldn't do it early. I would do it more at yellow leaf drop both on corn and beans. A two-week establishment on rye or triticale versus a drill, that's a real plus, especially early fall. I don't see any difference with interseeding rye or trit in the spring.
By the time we get ready to plant, it makes no difference whether it's been interseeded or drilled, it's the same height. We may have just a little better stand of our cover with the drill, a little thicker stand. Yes, sir.Speaker 3:
When interseeding for ryegrass and corn, have you or do you ever come back pre-harvest or right after harvest to put on additional say, cereal rye?Dave Brandt:
Usually we haven't because it's thick enough, we don't think we need to. If there's a thin stand and we have bare soil, we will go back and put oats or rye, or trit in that or even Egyptian wheat.
Well, Egyptian wheat would have to be done in the summer because that's a warm season grass, but those kinds of things we would correct most definitely. I despise the seed-bearing soils.Speaker 4:
My buddy did that. His angle rye [inaudible 00:34:29] was too thick. Had a carpet sprig, way too thick.Dave Brandt:
Yeah, right. The ryegrass is really forgiving. It will tiller and come, but I was thinking about a three-foot hole or a six-foot hole or a 20-foot hole that got drowned out or something, then we would correct it. All these rooted things will help internal drainage. Now it will not replace the tile. Don't get that wrong, don't think you can grow cover crops and not have to put tile in, but it will help. It may deter you from doing tile for nine or 10 years.
We use our cover crops to draw out moisture. We have other places like Nebraska, they use cover crop to hold the moisture. They kill it early spring. It's brown when they plant, they're trying to hold that moisture. They need to collect the snow. Depends on where you're at. Your cover crops have to look at your weather, you don't want a cover crop two inches tall if you got to catch snow. You want to cover crop six or eight foot tall to catch that snow to hold that water there.
In our case, we got excess water in the spring, so we're trying to draw it out. In a rye, cereal rye crop, those crops will grow out an inch of moisture out of the soil a day. You can go on Monday too wet. If it's 75, 80 degrees and the wind's blowing a little bit, by Thursday afternoon, it's too damn dry to plant. You have to learn to manage these situations.Michaela Paukner:
What is your recommendation for clipping cover crops?Dave Brandt:
I think it's going to depend on your species as far as clipping goes. If it's clovers and that stuff, it'll regrow. You probably won't get much regrowth from winter peas or cowpeas, and hairy vetch that are starting to bloom. If the rye has went to making seed or making a seed head or a flag leaf where it's going through the stage, you can clip it and it will die, yes.
There's no problem with something growing there as long as you can control how it grows the first 10 or 12 days after planting, because anything that's going to canopy that row that's growing is going to outcompete the corn. The same thing happens with soybeans. That cover gets tangled up over that row, and that bean gets real straggly and hard to get up.
If you could deter that clover for 25 or 30 days with just something that would burn the surface and not kill the roots, that might be a plus.Michaela Paukner:
What species of clover does well in wet spots other than balansa clover?Dave Brandt:
As of yet, we haven't found anything. The way I evaluate this and when I seed people in our business, we plant a 10 or 12 way specie, then we go back in the spring and we evaluate what's left. It's interesting, but balansa clover, if you can visualize, you got to visualize Dave Brandt's farm. It goes from black area about as big as this room, to a 6% slope that's got half dark-colored soils with two inches of topsoil, and then yellow subsoil. On the top, it's all subsoil yellow.
What we find is that the balansa hangs in there where that soil's black and wet and cold. We start up the hill, then we start seeing crimson clover, we start seeing hairy vetch, we start seeing rye. We get to the top of the knob, we see rye and crimson clover. The only thing I can say about balansa for the last five years, even though there's been an inch and a half water in the spring on the soil there, it's still there and growing.
Now I don't know, that water never stays there more than four or five or six days unless it rains another three inches. It's about time again, but it seems to hang in there. To me that's what I want to use if I can get some roots, because why we have problems with that hole. It's wetter when you work it, your tires compact that soil, it won't grain. If we could get a root to go down through there and break that compassion layer wherever it's at, and let water infiltrate better.
We've seen those holes get smaller. Now you'd only eliminate them the first year. You eliminate them in a three-year rotation, where maybe you hit that balansa in there twice. The ninth year, that hole's not there. That hadn't been tiled. Now we had to do some tiling, because the last two years we've had over more than normal rainfall. Last year we had 65 inches. The year before we had 59 inches. What happened in our soils, we infiltrate eight inches an hour, so our topsoil got wet.
Guess what? Our subsoils has gotten really lots of pores because of the earthworms and the root mass. We ended up with a four-foot jelly that wouldn't dry out. It accepted all the water, it didn't run off, but guess what? If you got a crop up there, it's waterlogged, it ain't going to grow. When you have tile every 150 or 200 feet, it just can't pull it away. Last year we went in and split them and made them 75 feet apart. Hopefully, I'll put quotations around it, it better.
But hopefully, we'll get more corn and beans just because of the weather cycles changed for us. I would've said nine years ago, I would never retile anymore because I thought we was doing fine. But then the weather cycles changed.Michaela Paukner:
If I'm combining my soybeans in December and I cut off the hairy vetch, will it come back?Dave Brandt:
Yes, sir. They'll be back. You didn't hurt the root mass any. Yeah, you didn't hurt the root mass any, unless you cut a rut.
It may not come up in those tire marks, but the vetch will be there because by December, it was in dormant stage. It had done all it's going to do.Michaela Paukner:
What's your opinion about barley as a cover crop?Dave Brandt:
We're using a lot of barley in our mixes where we're going to grow corn. We have to up the seeding rate. Five years ago, we started with barley at 30 pound like we did rye. That was a total disaster, because we didn't have enough biomass on the surface after the first month and the weeds came. Now we're at about 65 or 70 pounds of barley, which is equal to about 30 pound of rye because it only gets to be about 18 or 24 inches tall.
Barley has to be planted somewhat earlier. It can't handle Thanksgiving planting dates. That's another disadvantage but I think it has a place. We like barley because it heads three and a half to four weeks sooner than the rye does. Guess what? We can roll barley two and a half to three weeks sooner than we can roll rye. We could plant corn somewhat earlier if we wanted to. I think it has a place.
But again, you got to look at your situation. I'd hate to have you plant in December barley and call me up and say it didn't grow. Well, hell no, it won't make it. Winter's tough on barleys.Speaker 3:
Will barley grow the same root system, right?Dave Brandt:
Pretty much so if they're planted the same days, yes, yes. It's the same easy to kill species. We don't talk about wheat much just because it's in my rotation as a primary crop and I want to put more diversity in, wheat will work. I think it takes more patience and more time with wheat and it doesn't root as deep. Takes more chemical to take wheat out in a cover crop situation. Luckily, we have never had to terminate any wheat. But if we had to, we would more than likely go back to soybeans because it would be a grass going to a legume.
Our rotation is corn planted to rye in the fall or interseeded, depends on how we get along, and then soybeans. Immediately after the beans are planted, we go to winter wheat. We take the winter wheat off sometime around the first of July to the 10th. Plant the cover crop sometime in July from the 10th to the end of the month. Depending on the species you're using, if you happen to be using species that tend to flower 35 to 40 days after planting and they're a legume, we delay planting till about the first of August.
We do not want our cover crops to bloom and make seed because then it takes the nutrients that's stored in the roots to make the seed. The best thing you do, like buff, it'll bloom in 30 days after planting. There's a Greenfix Chickling Vetch, I really like it. I like it in September, October. It's not worth a tater in July. Because you plant it the 10th of July, on August 7th it's blooming. You dig that plant when it's blooming and the nodulations are dark.
They're black because it's moving through the plant to make the seed head to make seed. We lost all the organic in that we're collecting. Dave Brandt's a greedy guy. If I could get the atmosphere and we're working on it, if I can get the atmosphere to give me enough nitrogen to grow 300 bushel of corn, I'm going to be thrilled to death. Now we're growing 200 now without any. One mistake I made, and I'll tell you about this, this is my biggest failure I ever had.
I started with Rick Haney doing the Solvita test about nine or 10 years ago. Rick says, "Well, I really like your plans. I really like what's going on." I say, "Well Rick, I got this wild hair and I found 16 different legumes, planted them after wheat and man did they look good. Had good weather, had no grass in there, no grass species." Every year, Rick and I worked, we got a deal worked out because he used our farm as a base to start his analysis with.
No matter how many soil samples I take, as long as I pay the freight to Texas, he'll do them for nothing so that's a good deal. About October, this stuff is really looking good. It's about this tall. I said, "Man, I got nitrogen out the wazoo." We dug them and there's nodules everywhere. It was white underneath that soil. I sent a sample to him. Rick sent me back two weeks later, "David," he says, "You've done a great job. You got 1,176 pound of nitrogen in that soil." Man, I was a smiling.
I told my wife, I says, "We got her made now." Well, I saw Rick at a winter meeting, he says, "How's it going, David?" I says, "Man, I loved that analysis." He says, "Yeah." He says, "Did you learn anything?" I says, "I could grow nitrogen." He says, "How's the corn going to do?" I says, "Going to do damn good with all that in." Come May 1st, he's getting ready to plant, May the 10th we're getting ready to go like gangbusters.
Pull out in this clover field subscreen, couldn't get the damn planter in the ground. Could not get that planter to go in the ground. We put six ton of suitcase weights on the corn planter. The disc blades even turned sideways. I call up Rick Haney, I says, "Rick, what the hell do I do?" He says, "You dumb thing." That wasn't the word, but I won't say it here. He says, "Don't you remember in World War II they used anhydrous ammonia to make runways on the beach?"
He says, "You got so much nitrogen and carbon deficiencies, you got more nitrogen and no carbon." He said, "You screwed it up, David." He says, "You got greedy." I said, "Yeah." I says, "What do we do to correct it?" He says, "Plant oats, rye, anything that's grass, it'll grow. Get it out there, get your carbon back up." In the last three years, that's been the best corn I've ever had. But I lost one year of product out of it.
But I learned a lesson, so don't get greedy, guys. Always balance your cover crops with grasses and legumes, always. You don't have to have a whole lot of grass, but you need enough there to have that carbon to make it work for you. But there is enough nitrogen in the atmosphere. Somebody's going to call me to this, but I have not seen a soil scientist or a biologist or whatever they want to call these guys that's supposed to be professionals.
Tell me how many pounds of phosphorus and potash I have in the soil. They tell me how many pounds are available in the soil. If we can find plants that will go deep or go shallow or wherever they have to be and bring up nutrients. Because I will tell you by looking at our soil samples, and I'll be happy to show them to you. We got 35 years of data now and we're not losing NPK. We're not losing carbon, we're not losing calcium.
We're bringing that stuff up. Now, not the large percents, five or six pounds a year, but at $500 or $600 a ton, which is like 30 to 60 cents a pound. Why don't we try to bring some of that surface? I think what it is, we're not losing it, guys. Average soil loss is seven ton in the United States. If we could go to one ton, just think how much nutrient we could save off your fields. I would not feel a bit bad about erosion if I could erode the subsoil. I want that black stuff on the top.
If we could figure out some way to make that water, take that hard pan away from you I'd be happy, but we lose what's on the top. We lose the organic matter. We lose the nutrients we're spreading on the top. Let's control it. We need to start here, because we're not very far away, guys and gals, from mandated problems. If we happen to have another algae bloom, and this is just Ohio, but we lucked out this year because Lake Erie never got warm.
If Lake Erie would've been two degrees warmer, just two degrees, there would be no phosphorous to potash spread in Ohio next year, zero. We need to learn to keep it where we put it on.Michaela Paukner:
When does a hairy vetch cover crop become a weed?Dave Brandt:
The complaint I get is when we use hairy vetch after wheat, the guy's in a three-year rotation. The third year he comes back around, he's planting his wheat. He calls me up and he says, "David." He says, "I pulled in the field with a combine, made six foot of entry and harvested. The whole damn field never moved." He says, "You didn't tell me that was going to be a weed." "Well, I said some things have hard seed."
If you have hairy vetch in your rotation and you're trying to grow small grains. A half a pint of 2,4-D per acre of work. It works a lot better on top of fence post with a lid off and 30 mile an hour winds, because that's how just it'll kill real easy. But those are the things that you have to learn as you manage. Organic farmers don't plant buckwheat because it's a damn weed. In 30 days, it's making seed and they forget it. Well, the next 25 years they got buckwheat in that field.Michaela Paukner:
Are there certain varieties of cover crops that work better in soybeans than in corn and vice versa?Dave Brandt:
I've not seen that. The only reason we don't put a lot of nitrogen things with soybeans on a typical soybean plant. Just look at me, I'm healthy, I'm happy, I'm fat. Well, when I'm healthy and fat like this, I don't use a scoop shovel. I just don't want to do it. My grandson only weighs about 100 pounds and he can run a shovel really good. The same thing happens with the soybean. If he's got all the nitrogen and all everything he needs in the soil, he's not going to produce seed.
The nodes will be six or eight inches apart with one or two pods. If we put rye in that field and we tie up that nitrogen, guess what? He nodes closer probably every two inches. Instead of two pods per node, he's going to have three to five. We usually go from two bean pods to three to four. That's when I tell guys that's been conventional, I will give them five more bushel of beans if they plant rye. I will buy five bushel of beans from them.
If their beans aren't five more bushel better than where they've been doing conventional. We've seen it time after time, the beans are a lot better after rye. Yes, sir.Speaker 4:
The best time to do a [inaudible 00:52:05] test?Dave Brandt:
I think it's when the soil's warm, when we have all this micro activity working because it's releasing the nutrients I want to see. Now, if I was coming to your house as a fertilizer dealer, I would really like to pull soil samples now.
I really would because I can show you you're phosphorus deficient, you're potash deficient. You're probably going to be calcium deficient, because everything's dormant. Soils are cold. I think springtime, just before planting is ideal.Michaela Paukner:
Thanks to Dave Brandt for being so willing to share his wisdom with others over his many years of farming. He will certainly be missed. A full transcript and video of this episode are available at notillfarmer.com/podcast.
I'll also include a link to some of the other articles, podcasts, and videos that No-Till Farmer has done with Dave throughout his career. Many thanks to the Andersons for helping to make this no-till podcast series possible. From all of us here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Michaela Faulkner. Thanks for listening.