Jo Daviess County plot project proves cover crop viability in northern region

Project measures amount of nitrogen taken up by different cover crop mixes.

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JoDaviess County Farm Bureau member Greg Thoren, upper right, discusses soil health on his Stockton cover crop plot during an April 6 field day. John Musser, Stephenson Service Co. crop adviser, in red jacket, checks the depth of earthworm holes in the soil profile. (Photo by Lyndsey Ramsey, Illinois Farm Bureau)

By Kay Shipman

Editor’s note: This article represents ongoing stories related to Illinois Farm Bureau’s Nutrient Stewardship Grant program.

Jo Daviess County Farm Bureau Director Greg Thoren, a Soil Health Partnership participant, knows many farmers believe cover crops won’t grow in northern Illinois. He knows that’s false.

“We have 2,200 acres, all no-till and all cover cropped. We’re 15 miles from Wisconsin,” Thoren said. “There are all sorts of nice pieces when you put them together. It’s not one and done. You have to set your mindset up to make cover crops work, and they will work.”

This year, Thoren is hosting his fourth cover crop trial on his Stockton farm, the third one partially sponsored as the county Farm Bureau’s nutrient stewardship grant project. Project partners include Stephenson Service Co., Agnetic LLC and University of Illinois Extension. 

During the years, 12 plots with different cover crop mixes were seeded following wheat or rye. Nitrogen trials across different soils and soil testing are part of the project “to see how much nitrogen is taken up out of the ground by different cover crops,” Thoren said.

This year’s plans include adding two strips of dairy manure, along with two strips of nitrogen on the original cover crop plot.

For the fourth year after harvesting wheat and rye, Thoren again plans to no-till seed oats and red clover. He will no-till plant corn the following spring and take advantage of nitrogen produced by the clover.

Thoren credits John Musser, Stephenson Service Co. crop adviser, for contributing his nutrient and soil testing expertise and Art Scheele of Agnetic LLC for his knowledge of cover crop seeds and seeding. “It’s been a fun adventure, and we’re still learning from each other,” the farmer said. “It’s an open-ended loop.”   

Illinois Farm Bureau’s Nutrient Stewardship Grant funding has benefited the Jo Daviess County cover crop project, Thoren said. “It’s very beneficial for Farm Bureau to be engaged and a very good way for Farm Bureau to show it has some skin in the game,” he added.

Thoren also complimented Farm Bureau for encouraging project collaboration with like-minded groups that have similar goals.

He recommended farmers interested in growing cover crops attend field days and demonstrations and talk with experienced cover crop growers. “Pay attention to your fields and watch,” Thoren said. “It’s the soil health that does everything.”

As for northern Illinois cover crops, Thoren offered: “As a farmer, I want it (cover crops) to work 10 out of 10 years.”

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