Cover-crop tour in Albion, Mich.Ken Blight, center with cap, shares his experiences on cover crops, no till planting and manure at a recent tour on Blight Farms in Albion hosted by the Michigan State University Extension. Bruce Barton, area hog producer, left, and Natalie Rector, of the MSU Extension, are among those listening. (Courtesy photo.)

The benefits of recycling manure into the ground far outweigh any potential risks, if it’s done right — but the definition of “right” depends on each field, each year.

That was Natalie Rector’s message to more than 70 farmers and agribusiness professionals from throughout west Michigan and northern Indiana during a tour of research plots at Blight Farms in Albion on Aug. 26

The tour was designed to show that no-till planting, cover crops and manure can all work together in a management system "that’s good for the environment, and keeps money in the farmers’ pocket," according to a news release about the event.

The event showed two methods for establishing cover crops: drilling seeds into the soil,  and slurry seeding.

Slurry seeding is a method of placing seed directly into the manure tank, allowing growers to plant a cover crop while they spread manure. The system is the brain child of Tim Harrigan, MSU Extension specialist in the MSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Rector said.

“There are many iterations of what cover crop to use, when to plant and how to plant,” Rector says. “It is all a matter of what the farmer’s goals are and how it works into their cropping systems.”

Ken Blight, one of the owners of the farm where the demonstration took place, says he favors the no-till systems but it makes handling manure a little trickery. “If you use deep tillage in Calhoun County, you better like picking rocks,” Blight said. “The older I get, the less I like rocks and the more I appreciate methods that are less labor intensive and leave a little money in my wallet.”

Slurry seeding cover crops helps retain nitrogen in the soil so he farmers are able to purchase less synthetic nitrogen in the spring. Cover crops can serve other purposes, too,  such as the turnips and radish varieties for fall and winter beef pasturing or cereal rye for feed in the spring for dairy.

Roberta Osborne, MSU Extension dairy educator, explained how rye green chop can contribute quality feed at a profit.

The second part of the tour highlighted environmental protection practices that have helped Blight Farms achieve verification in the Michigan Agriculture and Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).

The tour was hosted by MSU Extension in Calhoun County and was also visited by the Michigan Soil and Water Conservation Society as one stop on the group's annual summer tour.