Sustainable production

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Sustainable production

Feb 11, 2019 | 11:41 1 Had a recent conversation with a direct seeding pioneer.
He suggests that present grain growing system is not sustainable.
That we consider forage in rotation to maintain soil organic matter.
My response was to say that present system is more profitable than the forage and livestock inclusive one that we used to follow in past and that operating at a profit is first consideration.
Guess we each have to decide individually how far to go. Reply With Quote
Feb 11, 2019 | 11:55 2
Quote Originally Posted by Hopalong View Post
Had a recent conversation with a direct seeding pioneer.
He suggests that present grain growing system is not sustainable.
That we consider forage in rotation to maintain soil organic matter.
My response was to say that present system is more profitable than the forage and livestock inclusive one that we used to follow in past and that operating at a profit is first consideration.
Guess we each have to decide individually how far to go.
don't you just love being told by the woke people how to run your life? personally I'm am getting sick and tired of it.

I also wonder what the difference is in removing nutrients from an ecosystem by cereals and oilseeds vs meat and/or poultry and dairy products. I suggest that removal of nutrients from poorer soiled ecosystems typically associated with pastures is more damaging than growing crops and replacing nutrients with artificial fertilizers on heavier fertile soils.Proper management of both types of food production is essential and I believe each and every farmer strives to improve their most important resource...the land.

I think the guys advocating for more forage acres are hoping for a huge increase in forage production to lower the price of their main input, feedstock. I may be wrong. Reply With Quote
farmaholic's Avatar Feb 11, 2019 | 12:01 3 How is growing forage then cutting and baling and removing all the crop 3-4(or less) inches above the ground going to build organic matter? Wouldn't more organic matter be returned to the soil in an annual cropping system where all the chaff and straw get returned to the surface?

Unless you're talking about forage as pasture and grazing livestock.1

If nutrients that are removed by the harvested seed are replaced, now can that be worse than forage?

I have neighbors who fucked up their pastures so bad that they could never return to the soil what residue from an annual crop would.

Grassfarmer
Grassfarmer
Grassfarmer.... Reply With Quote
Feb 11, 2019 | 12:28 4 Obviously, different geographic regions will have differing practices, but there are some very interesting developments here in southern Ontario with regard to soil-building practices.

Namely, the increasing use of cover crops before, during and after a crop is raised.

The goal is to increase organic matter and thus increase the availability of nutrients and also water retention.

Organic matter comes not only from what grows above the ground, but the root mass contributes a big percentage as well.

The easiest one is planting a cover crop after winter wheat, with a wide growing window following harvest. I have planted rye after soys and found it to be very worthwhile in terms of volume. Some will kill it off in the fall while others wait until spring.

There are some very elaborate mixes being used with up to 8, sometimes more, species being planted. Each species contributes its own microbial soil benefit.

One thing that surprised me was that the data shows that the soil temperature is actually higher when a living cover crop is present in the spring, a result of the microbial activity in the soil.

Just last week I followed a piece of equipment loaded on a transport - a "crop crimper" for killing off cover crops in the spring.

It looked like a land roller with 4" spiral vanes/blades sticking out from the surface of the roller on about 6" or 8" centers. Those vanes flatten and crimp the cover crop, causing it dry out rapidly after one pass. The crop is no-tilled directly into that aftermath.

The guys that have been doing it a while are not quitting.

So yes, there is a movement toward recognizing soil science and it shows some promise.

It naturally follows, though, that there is a downside that will need to be addressed, such as the cover crop hosting some plant diseases. It's never easy.

What makes this discussion interesting is that the mainstream agriculture guys are starting to use some of the language that was once relegated to the organic camp. SAY IT ISN'T SO!!

Such as "Feed the microbes, and the microbes feed the plants".

What is also interesting is that it is the biggest operations that are showing the most adverse effects on the soil, (compaction, erosion) with little or no remedial actions being practiced. Unless one calls more fertilizer and more tillage remedial...
Last edited by burnt; Feb 11, 2019 at 12:30.
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  • farmaholic's Avatar Feb 11, 2019 | 12:34 5 Good post burnt.
    I think this could be a good thread if we can treat each other's opinions and experiences with respect.

    Burnt, one of the drawbacks in Western Canada is a relatively short season to get something going after harvest. Sometimes it's all farms can do to get the crop off before the farming "season" ends.

    I look forward to other people's posts with their experiences and opinions.
    Last edited by farmaholic; Feb 11, 2019 at 13:16.
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    GDR
    Feb 11, 2019 | 12:46 6
    Quote Originally Posted by Hopalong View Post
    Had a recent conversation with a direct seeding pioneer.
    He suggests that present grain growing system is not sustainable.
    That we consider forage in rotation to maintain soil organic matter.
    My response was to say that present system is more profitable than the forage and livestock inclusive one that we used to follow in past and that operating at a profit is first consideration.
    Guess we each have to decide individually how far to go.
    I apreciate different areas have different environmental / market and land quality differences and I have no issue with conventional modern grain farming. However we are mixed farming, the land that gets rotated over the years through forage pasture and grain is by far the most profitable acres on the farm. We will see how the anti meat campaign influences ag going forward.

    As for individual profitability export hay growers have returns much higher than annual crops in our area, although more risk to quantity and quality than grain. Last couple years even cow feed has been better due to drought.

    Sustainability has a different meaning to lots of people. Some of the technology relating to nitrogen fixation and perenial cereals and other advancements are going to change things going forward. Reply With Quote
    Feb 11, 2019 | 13:00 7 intercropping should speed up maturity then a fall rye or wheat should keep the soil alive. Reply With Quote
    Feb 11, 2019 | 13:12 8 Person on other end of my conversation did suggest pasture but forage is still required for winter feed.
    Thought his accomplishments in direct seeding and zero till would have been enough but he says we need to go further. Reply With Quote
    Feb 11, 2019 | 14:58 9 We have dabbled just a little with cover crops. We used a simple approach of using bin run barley seed drilled into barley stubble. We got an excellent stand of lush growth. We used it as late pasture for cow/calf pairs. You could watch pounds come on those calves. It was tremendous.

    The upshot on the soil was an improvement in organic matter in just the one season. If we could improve the system (planting, timing, etc) and maybe add some pulses as well, I know it would help our water storage in the soil as well.

    Another option we tried, and it worked well, was intercropping fall rye with barley. The crop was silaged and the rye then grazed in fall, again in spring, then rye was taken to harvest. The green rye in the silage helped ensiling and bumped up the protein by about 1.5%.

    BTW, any definition of sustainable farming is that first and foremost the farmer must be profitable, no matter the system. That's true sustainability. Reply With Quote
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  • Feb 11, 2019 | 15:45 10
    Quote Originally Posted by Braveheart View Post
    We have dabbled just a little with cover crops. We used a simple approach of using bin run barley seed drilled into barley stubble. We got an excellent stand of lush growth. We used it as late pasture for cow/calf pairs. You could watch pounds come on those calves. It was tremendous.

    The upshot on the soil was an improvement in organic matter in just the one season. If we could improve the system (planting, timing, etc) and maybe add some pulses as well, I know it would help our water storage in the soil as well.

    Another option we tried, and it worked well, was intercropping fall rye with barley. The crop was silaged and the rye then grazed in fall, again in spring, then rye was taken to harvest. The green rye in the silage helped ensiling and bumped up the protein by about 1.5%.

    BTW, any definition of sustainable farming is that first and foremost the farmer must be profitable, no matter the system. That's true sustainability.
    You could have just used a John deere combine instead of seeding bin run.....lol.... Reply With Quote
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  • farmaholic's Avatar Feb 11, 2019 | 16:52 11 After harvest there are times that in the Ghetto you couldn't get something to germinate if you wanted(Even in spring sometimes, LOL). When there are cracks in the low spots wide and deep nothing will germ and you would need a disc type seeder otherwise you would have football sized lumps.

    Things have improved here dramatically since we started continuous cropping with a diverse crop rotation... but I guess things are never so good that they couldn't be better!

    Edit in, not tdying to be adversarial and negative, just pointing out some challenges of farming in the Ghetto.
    Last edited by farmaholic; Feb 11, 2019 at 17:00.
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    Feb 11, 2019 | 17:37 12 I have been thinking of covercrops also bbut have kind of the same problem as farmaholic. But I think we could use covers after a hailstorm. Also green matter is important for soil life I have quit spraying pre and preharvest in the fall but not convinced yet some weeds are coming back like thistle and we have to keep that manageable. Interesting topic'. Reply With Quote
    Feb 11, 2019 | 17:49 13
    Quote Originally Posted by farmaholic View Post
    After harvest there are times that in the Ghetto you couldn't get something to germinate if you wanted(Even in spring sometimes, LOL). When there are cracks in the low spots wide and deep nothing will germ and you would need a disc type seeder otherwise you would have football sized lumps.

    Things have improved here dramatically since we started continuous cropping with a diverse crop rotation... but I guess things are never so good that they couldn't be better!
    The beauty is, too dry don't do cover crop. If conditions permit go ahead.

    I haven't come close to figuring it out. Like usual, the more I learn the less I know. Reply With Quote
    Feb 11, 2019 | 18:12 14 our land has never been in better shape than it is now since we started min/zero till 25 years ago , but I agree always room for improvement .
    I'm not comfortable at all with the money we are spending on inputs and the risk we are incurring .
    A big eye opener for us always is when we take an alfalfa field out of production . those fields will outyield all others for 5-6 years , especially when we are on the wet side (99%) of the time Reply With Quote
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  • Feb 11, 2019 | 18:39 15
    Quote Originally Posted by farmaholic View Post
    How is growing forage then cutting and baling and removing all the crop 3-4(or less) inches above the ground going to build organic matter? Wouldn't more organic matter be returned to the soil in an annual cropping system where all the chaff and straw get returned to the surface?

    Unless you're talking about forage as pasture and grazing livestock.1

    If nutrients that are removed by the harvested seed are replaced, now can that be worse than forage?

    I have neighbors who fucked up their pastures so bad that they could never return to the soil what residue from an annual crop would.

    Grassfarmer
    Grassfarmer
    Grassfarmer....
    A large factor in building soil OM comes from root die off after a plant is cut or killed. Perennial crops like alfalfa or an alfalfa/grass mix have way more roots that a cereal crop. It's still mining OM though whether you are removing a hay crop or a grain crop. The better the pasture (and it's management) the better you can build OM - poor pasture is not a good or sustainable system for sure.
    You talk about replacing nutrients - that's fine and well but you're not adding OM, not directly anyway by adding nutrients assuming you are talking chemical N,P+K. I agree with the comments on cover crops - great after a hail event, doubtful in many areas if you think only in terms of it as a second crop grown after the first - lack of moisture, lack of time is often against you. I think the real advances will come through intercropping but there is still so much to learn.
    I'm interested in things like hairy vetch seeded at the same time as a greenfeed crop or corn - slow to establish so not outcompeting the "main" crop, yet there and growing late season to contribute and extend the season where something is growing. Another that intrigues me is growing sweet clover under a crop, again probably slower to establish, then have it grow on in the fall after harvest and given that it's main activity in year one is fixing N in it's roots it could be accumulating all the N you need for the next crop. As long as it didn't hinder harvest of the main crop then you could spray it out.
    The sprays are an issue though - they are all very tough on the soil micro-biology and kill the critters you need to convert the crop residue into stable OM. That's a tough one to overcome. Reply With Quote
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  • Feb 11, 2019 | 19:55 16 lots of sweet grown here that way but oftentimes it takes over the primary crop and makes harvest a bitch . I have saw it grow above canola the first year , no doubt worse here because of our wet problem most of the time Reply With Quote
    Feb 11, 2019 | 20:13 17
    Quote Originally Posted by caseih View Post
    lots of sweet grown here that way but oftentimes it takes over the primary crop and makes harvest a bitch . I have saw it grow above canola the first year , no doubt worse here because of our wet problem most of the time
    I've grown hairy vetch as an under crop but not the sweet clover. Twice seeded sweetclover on it's own - first time it produced 8 ton/acre of silage by mid July, the second it was still a poor stand by August. That's why I'm interested in the concept versus actually doing it - far from having it figured out lol! Reply With Quote
    Feb 12, 2019 | 07:31 18 Heavy harrow with Valmar does a decent job with fall seeding, quick and gets some dirt around the seeds and when rain comes it grows. Reply With Quote
    farmaholic's Avatar Feb 12, 2019 | 08:48 19 Intercropping brings a whole new set of challenges with weed control, crop maturity, separating harvested grain. There are some herbicide group overlaps in different crops but the options are definitely limited and in some intercropping fields non-existent. By the time all those things that need to be done intercropping are done and paid for, as Braveheart stated, there has to be a net gain for the producer.

    Then row cropping of two crops in the same field, yikes.

    In this area it us hard to justify trying to get a cover crop established after harvest. Between time left in the growing season, time to do it, available moisture, equipment requirements and costs(seed,fuel,wear & tear,etc)....it makes it a hard practice to justify.

    The only drawbacks I see in a spring attempt to establish a nitrogen fixing cover/companion crop would be, establishment, competition for limited moisture resources(sometimes sometimes not), weed control. If the cover/companion crop has conditions after harvest to create alot of biomass what is the procedure to deal with it and will it affect seeding the following spring?

    I also agree with Braveheart's comment about moisture retention(if there isn't a lack of moisture to start with). And there better be adequate moisture available without causing establishment and/or yeild loss in the following crop. Besides retention I believe it dramatically helps with infiltration.

    I also truly believe this system won't work in areas that are typically dry or classified semi-arid, but were there is an abundance of moisture...look out.

    Another issue could be the propagation and support of disease development, unless someone one wants to make the claim a healthy soil microflora can overcome that possibility and risk.
    Last edited by farmaholic; Feb 12, 2019 at 08:52.
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    Feb 12, 2019 | 11:33 20 On what I’d consider our shitty land which is hilly, heavy clay, little topsoil, and a bit of solonetzic; we have seen a remarkable improvement in productivity from switching to zero tillage and feeding cattle on the poorest spots. Something about cow poop increasing not only fertility but also microbial activity. I’m not a big fertilizer user as are most other guys that farm these hills because of lack of yield potential. That said, I never put any less on than I do but my yields have at least stabilized in poor years and increased in better years. My next experiment is to do an summer grazing on seeded annuals. My first attempt will be whatever seed I have in the bin fertilized with a balanced nutrient package. There is all these grazing blends you can buy but I have an issue spending $50 an acre on brassicas and what not. I intend to seed canola the following year and want a break in the rotation. Cows if managed right will return 80 to 90% of what they eat back to the ground. So if you do a grazing on crop land like this you are hopefully in a closed nutrient loop and building by adding fertilizer on top of added microbial activity. Reply With Quote

  • Feb 12, 2019 | 13:05 21 Farma, how much different would your precipitation be to Gabe Browns at Bismark ND? He seems to have developed a very elaborate system that works to grow all kinds of crops.
    I think there will be considerable reduction in disease risk if you have healthy soil microflora.
    At the end of the day I don't see cover crops/intercropping etc being an ideal bolt-on to a straight grain operation devoid of livestock. I think you need the livestock to benefit from the cover crops etc - but then again I believe land management on the prairies can't be sustainable without livestock anyway.

    To Wilton Ranch's comment about cover crop seed cost - I'm with you on that - it's just the parasites moving in on the new system the same as they already do on conventional systems. It's already turned a lot of early adopters that I know off cover crops.
    Last edited by grassfarmer; Feb 12, 2019 at 13:08.
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    farmaholic's Avatar Feb 12, 2019 | 13:27 22
    Quote Originally Posted by grassfarmer View Post
    At the end of the day I don't see cover crops/intercropping etc being an ideal bolt-on to a straight grain operation devoid of livestock. I think you need the livestock to benefit from the cover crops etc -
    I think you right about the addition of livestock to get full benefits.

    There could be some snake oil biologicals coming for grain farmers to help create synergies between the soil and the parts of the crops we normally don't see, the roots below the soil surface. Reply With Quote
    Feb 12, 2019 | 20:50 23 Covercrop seed couldn’t you let it go to maturity and harvest some? Martin Entz from manitoba sure swears by it for organic producers. They are getting same yields as conventional only every other year. Reply With Quote
    Feb 13, 2019 | 07:43 24 If it's a diverse seed mix as they recommend presumably plant maturity would be varied - make for tricky harvesting. Reply With Quote
    Feb 13, 2019 | 11:47 25
    Quote Originally Posted by jimmy View Post
    Covercrop seed couldn’t you let it go to maturity and harvest some? Martin Entz from manitoba sure swears by it for organic producers. They are getting same yields as conventional only every other year.
    That would probably work if an organic producer was under seeding a clover in a crop and letting it go to seed the following year. Any of these other crops may work like the brassicas. I’d wonder about chicory, plantain, or other exotic seeds not able to produce viable seeds in our climate. Biggest thing is to find what is reasonably priced or in your bin, readily available, and shows more benefit than letting whatever in the field goes wild for a green manure. Reply With Quote
    Feb 13, 2019 | 18:41 26 I know one guy here that interseeded sunflowers and hairy vetch very successfully. Had to separate the seed after harvest then sold the hairy vetch as common seed. A very profitable crop but it might not work as well every time. Reply With Quote