Farm Calls: A Winter’s Tale of Two Fields

Last Friday night a leading Jersey vegetable grower asked, “What’s with all the recent media hype about cover crops? I’m getting ads, USDA NRCS promotions and trade magazine articles about something we already know all about.”

He’s not alone in holding this opinion – ag agents have come to similar conclusions. “We know about cover crops. Farmers know about cover crops. Cover crops have been researched, demonstrated, and their costs and benefits established for over a century. There’s nothing innovative for growers and nothing new to teach.”

The thing is, many growers haven’t adopted cover crops. For example, take the fields I came across while driving down to Friday’s meeting. Who can resist checking out other farmers’ fields while traveling, whether it’s your neighbor down the road or fields far from home? On this detour, there were hundreds of acres seeded with a cover crop mix of cereal rye and oilseed radish (AKA Tillage Radish). But, something caught my eye so I stopped to take a look.

Two fields on opposite sides of one road.

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Selecting Summer Cover Crops

It’s tempting to cash crop every season, but eventually – especially on Coastal Plain soils – you’ll run into problems with disease pressure impacting yields. In addition, farming on Coastal Plain soils with their low level of organic matter makes using recommended herbicide label rates tricky; low organic matter results in a narrow window between efficacy and phytotoxicity, negatively affecting yields.

Cover crops can help remedy these problems. Summer cover crops are an option few Northeast growers use because there is only so much time in-season to cash crop, but it’s an option worth serious consideration. Summer cover crops add versatility to your cropping rotation – another chance to address weed and disease pressure plus build organic matter; another chance to boost future yields.

Don’t miss Cover Crop Field Day
Date: December 11, 2014
Location: Now or Never Farm, 37 Welisewitz Road, Ringoes, NJ
Host: USDA NRCS and North Jersey RC&D
Contact: For Information and RSVP (by Dec. 8) call USDA NRCS 908-782-4614×3

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Seven Years of Cover Crops in Rotations

A cover crop rotations study was conducted to determine if Coastal Plains soils could meet the challenge of cash cropping most seasons while also advancing soil organic matter and cation exchange capacity.

The rotations were Sudex-Rye-Soybean-Rye-Corn-Rye-Soybean-Wheat-Corn-Rye-Sudex-WheatAlfalfa. Soil organic matter remained unchanged the first three years but started to rise in year four. By year seven, soil organic matter had increased by 40 percent. Soil cation exchange capacity increased by 50 percent during the study period.

Soil Organic Matter vs CEC

USDA NE-SARE Cover Crop Rotations Study Results

Farm Calls: Biocontrol of Mexican Bean Beetle

This past week a grower called to ask about a recurring problem,

We’ve got a problem that hits us every year in our snap beans that we grow to sell at the local farm markets. Around June we experience heavy losses due to Mexican Bean Beetle. Somebody mentioned using parasitic wasps as a possible control agent.
What do you know about this and how do we go about getting them?

Mexican Bean Beetle: Adult and Larva

Mexican Bean Beetle:
Adult and Larva

Mexican bean beetle (MBB) has been a serious bean pest for decades in the Mid-Atlantic region, causing intolerable yield reductions. Fortunately, the Phillip Alampi Beneficial Insect Rearing Laboratory at the NJ Department of Agriculture rears small wasps (Pediobius foveolatus) that parasitize young Mexican bean beetle larvae before they can cause significant defoliation damage. The NJDA program saves about 21 tons of pesticide applications that would cost farmers about $450,000 a year.  [Read more…]