Renewable Farming

Cover crops and non-GMO seed can trim 2015 expenses


“Low crop prices have farmers discussing the potential cost savings of buying conventional non-GMO corn seed,” writes Sarah Carlson in the February Wallaces Farmer (page 34).

She points out that over several years, “Yield comparisons show the cheaper seed maintains similar yields as the GMO seed.”

Then, Carlson counters a typical objection to leaving GMOs and related herbicides behind: the cost of alternative weed and pest control.

She points out that cover crops can improve weed and pest control significantly, reducing total production costs. That means less annual expense, and a bonus of enhancing the soil food web with cover crops.

In Iowa, hundreds of farmers are overlaying cover crops on corn-soybean rotations. Over a few years, weed pressures gradually abate, along with insect damage. Two reasons:

1. Introducing other plant species into the root zone helps broaden the range of “natural enemies” of insect pests.  This has been demonstrated in research by Dr. Robert Kremer at the University of Missouri, and by hundreds of farmers. It’s a common theme of Practical Farmers of Iowa.

2. Added species such as legume and grass cover crops help restore nutrient balance in the soil. In turn, that abates weed pressure.

Carlson writes that “The cost of producing corn and soybeans can be brought down by using cover crops long term.”  She is the Midwest cover crop resarch coordinator for Practical Famers of Iowa.

Interest in cover crops appears especially keen this spring. Cover crops were one of the featured educational sessions offered by Iowa State University at the March Hawkeye Farm Show at the University of Northern Iowa. We’ve had renewed requests to test temporary cover crop “burndown” combinations such as acetic acid and magnesium sulfate, amplified with WakeUP Summer. The objective:  Set back overwintering cover crops in spring, without resorting to the standard broad-spectrum herbicides.  WakeUP itself is not a weedkiller; it simply intensifies leaf absorption and translocation of chemicals in a spray solution. 

In 2014, we checked several “brews” of temporary burndowns. (On the Internet, you can read about many “natural” burndowns that home gardeners use.)

The fastest and fiercest we found was phosphoric acid laced with WakeUP Summer.  However, phosphoric acid in a concentrated form requires extreme handling caution.

We found that distilled 10% vinegar plus WakeUP Summer scorched broadleaves and grasses to their crowns, but did not become systemic enough to kill the roots.  This spring, consultant Jim Martindale wants us to test sodium diacetate plus WakeUP Summer on cereal rye. 

The ideal burndown would double as a fertilizer, to justify the cost. We’ve knocked down broadleaves with ammonium sulfate plus WakeUP Summer, but it takes extremely good coverage. Blending AMS and 32% nitrogen, then mobilizing the brew with WakeUP Summer, also fries grasses and broadleaves… but only temporarily.

Let us know if you have come up with an earth-friendly burndown.  WakeUP Summer will, most likely, make it much more intense.