Rosenbaum says ‘rough’ transition into practice is worth it
WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — When Eric Rosenbaum of Rosetree Consulting LLC talks to farmers he wants to know what three things they are going to try to have a more successful farm next season.
It could be something simple or complicated, but the exercise helps farmers think logically as they figure out where they are going to have the most success.
“Maximum yield may not be the economically optimal yield,” Rosenbaum said, noting reaching one’s economic goals can be a slow process.
To illustrate his point, Rosenbaum said the concept of no-till was introduced in 1962 but it took 30 years to become widespread.
He said 85 percent of the farms he works with now are no-till, but there were hurdles to reach that rate. It required education, trial and error, including studying seed genetics, herbicides and fungicides.
“If you are transitioning, the first couple of years are rough, you need a logical, metered approach,” he said.
The rewards of no-till are concrete, though. Since 2010 no-till has produced the best yields.
Soil health is a big reason.
The term “soil health” was coined by the North Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rosenbaum said. It caught on because it is an accurate distillation of the problems and needs of the soil.
Farmers need to increase soil organic matter, reduce the loss of surface-applied nutrients, improve soil characteristics, agronomic resiliency and soil microbial interaction. Cover crops help with all of these goals, Rosenbaum said, but farmers need “tinkering time” to choose the best covers and the best planting time. They need to pay attention to the details of nitrogen application and find the right tools. They can also use models to predict the results of nitrogen application by various methods.
None of this is simple, Rosenbaum emphasized, since farmers need to predict the maturity dates of their cash crop before they decide on a cover crop. They must make choices of herbicides and planting equipment. A termination schedule needs to be set up for winter kill, which varies based on the species of cover crop used. Covers like winter wheat can regrow after harvest, so an herbicide application may be necessary.
“There aren’t many choices,” Rosenbaum said. A glyphosate will probably be necessary and that means tricky conditions for spraying and the necessity for testing water. Glyphosates may only be applied with a daytime temperature of more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a night temperature of more than 35 degrees.
Nozzles and pressure can guarantee full coverage, he said. He cautioned that even annual rye grass can become a weed, so careful application is essential.
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