steve groff

Steve Groff

FARGO, N.D. – Conservation Tillage Conference keynote speaker, Steve Groff, closed out the two-day session with some questions, challenges and predictions for those attending the event. This Pennsylvania farmer is widely known and highly respected as a cover crop pioneer, innovator and educator and feels cover crops are the wave of the future.

The one big question he asked was, “Is your soil functioning better now than it was 10 years ago?” and “Do you want to improve your soil over the next 10 years?”

Interseeding cover crops – Groff said interseeding cover crops into corn is an idea that will expand in this area as a way to improve soil health he told those attending the recent conference in Fargo. But interseeding isn’t a new concept, he noted, as he showed a 1931 sales brochure from the Oliver Implement Company that illustrated a planter unit that was designed especially for drilling between rows of standing corn. A few years later John Deere actually got into the business with their own version of an interseeder.

Interseeding works best when the seed is placed in the ground rather than broadcasting just on the soil surface.

“Broadcasting can work, but it is rather inconsistent,” Groff said. “The weather has to cooperate for it to work and that doesn’t always happen.”

He recommended starting a cover crop program on your lowest yielding fields since they will probably have a lighter stand of the original crop and that will allow more sunlight to reach the starting cover crop. He also suggested the best plant species to start with will be annual rye grass, radish, a legume crop, cereal rye and triticale.

Two other big questions he raised were, “Does it pay?” and “Will I have a yield hit if I raise a cover crop?”

“There have been hundreds of tests done with interseeding – essentially there is no yield loss and more often than not you will tend to maybe get a yield gain,” he said.

Bringing small grains back into the crop rotation – Groff noted that there are many growers now who eliminated small grain from their crop rotation, but there are advantages to having small grains in a rotation.

“I encourage you to look into trying to fit small grains on a portion of your farm because that gives you options to really energize your soil with multi-species cover crops,” he said.

“Cover crops make fertilizer more efficient. The price of nitrogen fertilizer will go up someday and let’s be prepared for when that day comes.”

He went on to explain that we have lost the art of farming and have been seduced by claims that if we buy this bag or bottle our problem will be solved.

“I am not saying we should throw all of that out – what I am saying is I think we can use a little less, because the power of marketing has affected us. We can’t buy soil health. We are going to have to take this in our own hands, so to speak,” he said.

“Spend your time and your money to learn how to be a better manager. Invest in an understanding of how the soil functions. And I can promise you will be able to wean yourself off some of the other inputs.

“The longer you are in a strategic cover crop, soil health management system, the less fertilizer you may need. Give yourself some time and you might as well start this year, if you can.”

Know what you are looking for – Since each farming operation is different, a grower needs to know what they are looking for and what their successes are.

“You need to have your own epiphany, your own things you see on your farm,” he said. “You need to have a shovel in your pickup truck and go out and dig in your soils.”

He stressed improving soil health is a life-long endeavor and not an overnight fix.

“Having an understanding on where the future is going is critical,” Groff said, “or you may be in danger of becoming obsolete.

“The customer now has a lot of say in how we grow things, and we need to start thinking of the bigger picture. The world is changing and I don’t want you to become obsolete. I want you to succeed…and there is opportunity in the future.”

Finally, he mentioned those who want more information can go to his website, where he lists strategies that will give a grower a solid foundation for success and put that grower on the way to increase their cover crop acres by 10 percent or more.