Renewable Farming

Update on Irvin Osterloh’s continuous-soybean strategy: How the 2020 crop is starting out

Today, Irvin Osterloh sent us two photos of his 2020 soybean fields, which are interplanted between twin rows of oats as a nurse crop for weed suppression. We told the background story in a May 5, 2020 report at this link, and asked Irv to send along a couple of images of the 2020 crop around the first of June. 

June 9, 2020 — Our May 5 story received an exceptionally high number of views from farmers. The photographs are eye-catching, and the agronomic system is unusual: Irv raises continuous soybeans on sandy soils in Adams County, Wisconsin. You could say his companion crop is oats, but the strips of oats aren’t harvested. They’re no-till drilled early as possible in spring, then terminated when they grow tall enough to shade the emerging beans.  Use the link above to see the rest of the story, and please note the captions on the photos below.

Beans emerging between twin rows of oats. Photo taken May 27, 2020. The oats restrain weeds, and Irv says that roots of oats have no allelopathic effect — restraining impact — on emerging soybean roots. Oats favor a wide array of beneficial microbial organisms which build up in the soil and dramatically improve nutrient uptake as well as buffering soybean diseases.
This photo was taken June 1. Irvin says that he usually terminates the oats around June 10, but this year the oats grew so fast he had to terminate before June 10. We’ve imagined that if an organic farmer wanted to try this strategy, he or she could rig a flail shredder to shred only the oats, right down to the ground. Beans would quickly shade the middles before any
surviving oats could grow back.
Photo taken June 9, after applying burndown, and after 1.4 inches of rain from tropical storm Cristobal. “This is only the fourth time in history to have that happen in Wisconsin,” said Irv Osterloh this morning, June 10. He added a comment: “The thing I like is all the nutrients the oats are keeping from leaching out of our sandy ground, and then giving those nutrients back to the beans later during the growing season.” (See this link on Cristobal’s remarkable reach)