Mercer County farmers are learning how a suite of nitrogen sources fits with different conservation practices, thanks to a partnership between the Mercer County Farm Bureau and Gold Star FS.
The goal is twofold – to make farmers more aware of different practices used in their county and to educate the public about farmers’ efforts, according to Kendra Anderson, county Farm Bureau manager.
“The primary focus is on farmers, but we also want the public to be aware farmers are trying and being innovative,” Anderson said.
Nate Pierce, Gold Star FS agronomy marketing manager, said one outcome will be raising the visibility of local resources and successes of two farmers involved in the county Four R For You (4R4U) project.
The statewide 4R4U program focuses on field demonstrations and studies to give farmers practical solutions and information. Illinois Farm Bureau and GROWMARK are collaborating with 14 county Farm Bureaus and 11 FS companies.
Bryce Holmes, a Mercer County Farm Bureau Board member from Joy, plans to try cover crops on two fields after his first trial last fall proved successful. On Aug. 27, Holmes aerial seeded a mix of oats and tillage radishes on a 40-acre soybean field. Holmes reasoned the two species would winterkill and be easier to handle in the spring.
Starting Nov. 25, Holmes allowed 19 head of bulls and heifers to graze the field. The cover crops supplemented one bale of hay for dry matter and sustained the cattle for two months.
“It was a trial. It was a success,” Holmes said. “When I first looked at it (cover crops), the cost of doing it has to be weighed out.” Extra forage provides an immediate benefit while other benefits take time, he noted. Holmes noted cover crops help hold soil on the area’s slopes, especially harvested soybean fields.
This fall, Holmes plans to again aerial seed a mixture of oats and turnips on the same field and add a second field close to his main cow herd.
The other participating farmer, Chad Bell of Viola, is conducting several trials on his fields. These include comparing no-till fields with and without cover crops, split applications of nitrogen on no-till fields with and without cover crops, and N-Watch, showing the plant-available nitrogen in the upper soil profile over time.
In addition, a weather station in Bell’s field is recording data that will be documented weekly, according to Gold Star’s Pierce. “It will be interesting when we look back” and compare weather information with nutrient and field conditions, he added.