Ones to watch
Mitch and Andy Hoenhause, Lisbon, N.D., are doing some things on their farm that might be worth watching.
The Hoenhause brothers have no-tilled since 2001 and, like nearly everyone in the eastern Dakotas, have struggled with wet soil conditions. In 2008, they began planting cover crops to use up excess surface water in their fields.
The Hoenhauses, who spoke at the 2010 North Dakota Soil Health Workshop in Bismarck, N.D., have had some successes. They say they have been able to plant fields with cover crops earlier than those without cover crops. Sometimes they gained as much as a week. They also have been able to create a more solid soil structure.
The Hoenhauses also have seen their corn yields increase, even though they are not applying more fertilizer. They credit new hybrids for some of the gain, but they think cover crops have helped, too.
Their soil organic matter has risen from the 2% level to around 5% since they started using cover crops. Cover crops may be increasing the population of soil microbes, which consume soil residue and mineralize soil organic matter, making more nitrogen available to plants. This year, the Hoenhauses are getting help from Hal Weiser, a North Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Service soils specialist, to figure out what is going is on.
The Hoenhauses also discovered that, under certain conditions, they can graze a cover crop mix containing winter wheat in the fall and still get a good winter wheat yield the following year.
In 2010, they seeded a cover crop mix containing winter wheat, radishes and field peas in the summer after harvesting spring wheat. There was less than 1 bushel of wheat seed per acre in the mix. The late-summer and fall weather was wet, and the cover crop grew well. It was so lush that they turned 400 of their father’s beef cows out on the field to make use of the extra forage. The following spring, the winter wheat stooled out and came back so thick that they didn’t tear the stand up and plant something else. The winter wheat averaged 50 to 55 bushels per acre — about 10 bushels per acre better than many of the other winter wheat yields in their area.
“It was an exceptional crop for the year we had, and we didn’t have hardly any money into it, plus we fed 400 cows on it for a couple of months,” Andy says.
This article published in the April, 2012 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.