The sweet taste of soil health success
By Annette Tait
The taste of soil health success is, indeed, sweet. This truth was demonstrated when soil conservationists, technicians, scientists and habitat managers from Natural Resources Conservation Service offices throughout the state gathered at Dave Porsborg’s farm to discuss soil health, its benefits, and means to achieve it. Many of those present were members of the NRCS Soil Health Cadre, which focuses on methods producers can use to achieve and maintain healthy, nutrient-filled soil.
While touring a field planted in corn with a cover crop of clover, NRCS District Conservationist Jay Fuhrer dug up a corn plant and cut off a small piece of a tiller root. Slightly larger than the fine roots that spread out seeking moisture, tillers gather both nutrients and moisture from the soil.
“Chew on that for a moment, then tell me what you think,” Fuhrer said, handing the bit of tiller to Oliver Soil Conservation District Supervisor LeAnn Harner, who did as instructed.
“Now,” Fuhrer said, “tell me what you think.”
“It’s a little sweet,” Harner replied.
Fuhrer smiled, explaining to the group that the no-till process was doing its job, adding nitrogen to the soil. The sweet taste of the tiller indicated the presence of nitrogen in the soil, in a field where no added fertilizers have been applied.
Being able to detect nitrogen in the tiller was a positive for the field, which Porsborg had interseeded with corn and clover as an experiment. Unfortunately, due to weather, the result wasn’t working out as planned.
“The rain moved the ground cover,” Porsborg said, referring to heavy rain that came when the clover was just emerging. “It’s maybe in the 35-40 percent [coverage] range.”
Even though his efforts didn’t work out this year, Porsborg is still excited about the potential.
“I may try it again later,” he said. “I wanted something that’s not too competitive with the corn.”
Fuhrer suggested field peas, which led to a lively discussion among those present. Thoughts were shared about field peas as a cover crop, and as nitrogen fixers – helping to add more nitrogen to the soil. Also mentioned was planting vetch with corn, as the crops are very compatible, and using the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agriculture Research Service’s cover crops sequence calculator to determine the best sequence for a given area, based on precipitation and local temperatures, among other factors.