Soil takes the spotlight – Iola Register


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“Plants fix soil.”

It’s a mantra the staff of Green Cover Seed not only live by, they’re hosting a conference this Friday and Saturday to share the message with others.

Presentations will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, featuring numerous perspectives on soil health, cover crops, forages and more.

Colony native Dale Strickler is an agronomist at Green Cover Seed and an expert on cover crops. (He also reads Confucius for fun.)

Strickler said the soil health conference will be structured in such a way as to be mindful of COVID-19.

“We put the conference together basically to make people aware of our presence here,” he said. As part of the proceedings, attendees will get an inside look at Green Cover Seed’s operations in Iola. The business is located at the former site of Tramec, 29 W. Davis St.

“We hope that it’s going to be an annual event,” Strickler added, “perhaps something that happens multiple times a year.”

A buckwheat seedling. The pollen of these flowers is “the tofu of the insect world,” and helps to sustain ladybug populations. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

As for the conference’s specific content, Strickler highlighted some key questions that will guide discussion, such as:

“What does soil health mean? What makes soil function like it’s supposed to? How do you create better soil?”

He also pointed to certain long-held assumptions that would be challenged.

For instance, “we used to think you fixed soil with steel,” Strickler said, “but tillage makes it worse.”

“You fix soil with microbes,” he said. “The more microbes you have in your soil, the more productive it becomes.”

That’s why the efforts of Green Cover Seed focus on “trying to put more organic matter back in the soil.”

Strickler’s own presentation will focus on using cover crops to provide year-round grazing.

He noted that hay is expensive, and hay-making machinery is even more expensive. But since most pastures in this area aren’t high quality year-round, what other choice does one have?

Enter the Velvet Bean, which Strickler called “the crop of the future.”

By planting velvet beans, one no longer has to feed cattle hay in the winter, which has the double benefit of saving money on hay and not requiring one to be outdoors in frigid temperatures.

(Interestingly enough, velvet beans also treat depression in humans.)

So as Strickler summarized, “it’s easy to graze year-round, but most pastures aren’t high-quality year-round. The cover crops grown on crop land between cash crops can provide high quality pasture at times when our perennial pastures are not of good quality.”

Beyond velvet beans, there are around 150 other varieties of cover crops/forages, all with their own unique soil-enhancing/nutritional properties.

Hence speakers at the conference will also discuss things like:

How does cereal rye help improve corn/bean rotations? How does it suppress weeds?

How do you combine black oats and spring peas to improve Nitrogen levels?

Why is it beneficial to grow birdsfoot, clovers and/or canary grass in flood-prone areas?

What about buckwheat, Scarlet Runner, Egyptian Weed and/or Russian Sunflower?

The list goes on and on.

Despite the promise of cover crops, Strickler said that nationwide the adoption rate is only about 5-10%, and no-till agriculture is only about 30%.

What this means is that approaching soil health via such methods is still young, and a good deal of education remains.

But that’s what this weekend’s conference is all about, educating the curious and persuading the skeptical.

“Farmers are a group that like to see something work, who like to DO things,” Strickler said; and if they’re up for it, he’d like to convince them that he and folks in the no-till/cover crop community are onto something special.

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