RENVILLE COUNTY, Minn. – Cover crops kept paying the bills and doing good things for Cody Nelson throughout the winter of 2018-19.
First off, Cody and Melanie Nelson’s herd of bred Registered Shorthorns spent more than two months in late 2018 grazing on 120 acres of cover crops.
The 1,200-pound cows were eating roughly 2.5-3 percent of their bodyweight – or about 30 pounds of feed per day. To feed the cows, it would have cost roughly $1.50 per cow per day – so with 70 cows on cover crops, Cody was saving about $105 per day.
Cover crops also helped in January, when Cody left his employment at Prairie Creek Seed to begin his own consulting business.
Named Soil RX Inc., Cody’s business focuses on long-term soil health through cover crops and reduced tillage.
He offers soil health consulting to both farmers and landowners and helps them increase productivity and farmland value. After years of learning how to incorporate cover crops and reduce tillage, Cody sees many other farmers now want to successfully use these techniques.
“The biggest misconception about incorporating cover crops is that they are an added expense and a risk,” he said. “When the right cover crop is placed into or ahead of the right cash crop, it should absolutely help to increase farm profits and reduce inputs all while helping to improve the soil qualities.”
Soil RX charges an annual fee of $4 per acre across whole farms for consulting services. Cody’s goal is to increase net profit per acre. By adding the right cover crop blend, the soil biome should be able to cycle a large amount of nutrients. Tillage costs are often drastically reduced.
Throughout the winter of 2018-19, Cody spoke at many farm events about the value of cover crops. There were good crowds, and he especially enjoyed speaking at the Fox River Summit in Burlington, Wis., on March 22. Providing the keynote address at this event, Cody spoke to just over 200 people on the challenges farmers face as they try to run their businesses today.
He explained to the non-farm audience that farmers are talking to each other and helping each other adopt cover crops and other soil health practices.
“The good thing is there is a group of farmers, and they are willing to take chances and to show that cover crops and soil rejuvenation are working,” he said. “They are all wanting to help each other.”
The Nelson family had many moments throughout the winter not dedicated to cover crops. They spent a lot of time driving throughout the winter, as Melanie owns and operates Elite Salon in Danube. The kids, Amelia, 10, Coy, 5, and Jace, 2, traveled to school and daycare. The whole family traveled to Nebraska, where much of Melanie’s family resides. Cody reported that as of mid-March, Melanie’s family farm was not in the flooded region.
Back in Minnesota, there was so much snow this winter! After moving the cows onto 100 acres of pasture and woods at the Bar N Cattle Company farm site, the Nelsons dealt with snowfall after snowfall. Cody spent many days pushing snow with the chore tractor and loader.
Cold temperatures were common. The actual temperature in the Minnesota River Valley dipped to minus 46 on Jan. 31.
The cows and heifers were fed grass hay bales carefully placed throughout the grazing area. While feed consumption increased in the coldest months, the cattle held their own, and by March were back to putting on weight again. Calving will start in late April, and by that time, the cows will be nice and round.
“I was feeding that poor quality hay and they were able to get through the winter without any other added supplementation,” he said.
For his final report, Cody gave a tour of cover crop fields throughout Renville County. On March 25 – while roads were flooding and Minnesota still had a deep snowpack – Cody found winter rye, brassicas and clover plants growing in the warming sun.
His plans for the next few months include planting a demonstration field of 60-inch-row corn along U.S. 212. He’s going to seed a mix of winter cereal rye and annual ryegrass, plus a small amount of turnips, rapeseed and radishes – about 1 pound of brassica seed per acre. He’s also going to add hairy vetch and some red clover to that mix because those two plant species do well at staying alive through Minnesota winters.
Next year, he plans to come back and plant soybeans into the overwintering cover crop.
“I love all the things that a ryegrass does, and it handles shade,” he said. “It’s our insurance policy to make sure we have something green no matter what.”
Cody tends to plant Roundup Ready soybeans so he can come back and terminate the cover crop next spring. If he were only planting winter rye as an overwintering species, he would use conventional soybeans. Another strategy he’s anxious to use is crimping the cover crop to show how well that works for weed management.
For another 2019 field, he’s going to plant oats into corn stalks.
“It’ll be no-till into corn stalks, so this is kind of a new thing,” he said. “We’ll be able to watch that and see how it goes. I’m really interested in how we’re going to be able to control the weeds. I can go back and bale it, but I’d much rather sell oats.”
He ended his cover crop tour with the field where it all started last fall. The snow was slowly melting away from the 120 acres of cover crops where the cows spent the fall and early winter. As soon as possible, the landowner will be planting sugarbeets there, and it will be another interesting field for Cody to watch during the 2019 growing season.
“This was a very successful project,” Cody said.
For anyone who is interested in cover crops and Soil RX, please visit https://soilrx.net to learn more.
We want to thank Cody and Melanie Nelson and everyone at Bar N Cattle Company for sharing their story during the winter of 2018-19. A lot of new information was provided that can help farmers. We wish you great success through 2019 and beyond!