Soil health will take center stage at an upcoming K-State Research and Extension meeting on Wed., Feb. 28 near Oswego, Kansas.
The meeting, “Cover Crops, Soil Health and Grazing,” will be focused on soil health as it pertains to agriculture, including productivity, profitability and sustainability, said Gretchen Sassenrath, agronomy specialist based at K-State’s Southeast Research and Extension Center. The day starts with presentations at 9:00 a.m. at the Falkenstien Farm, 8080 Pratt Rd. in Oswego, and wraps up with lunch.
Jaymelynn Farney, K-State southeast area beef specialist will address, “Do’s and Don’ts with cover crop grazing – from a livestock perspective.” Doug Spencer, Natural Resources Conservation Service rangeland management specialist will discuss soil health on rangelands and Rich Falkenstien of Falkenstien Farm will speak about his experiences with growing cover crops and grazing.
“For a farmer or rancher, soil health determines how productive the ground is,” Sassenrath said. “Changes in management practices can improve soil health, and ultimately productivity and profitability. Cover crops can be used to improve soil health, and also offer additional grazing. This workshop will explain various aspects of soil health, how cover crops can be incorporated into a production system, and what management changes can be made to improve soil health for better productivity.”
Increasing the organic matter in the soil can increase both the amount of water the soil can absorb, and the amount of water available to the plant. It has been estimated that for every 1 percent increase in organic matter in the soil, the plant-available water in the soil increases by 25,000 gallons per acre, Sassenrath said.
During the rapid growing phase, corn in southeast Kansas uses about one-fourth inch of water per day. So every four days, a corn crop needs an additional 1 inch of soil water. Soils with greater amounts of organic matter would both increase the amount of water held in the soil and increase the water available to that growing corn crop, she said.
“Living in an area with limited topsoil, being able to increase the water holding capacity of our soil is a tremendous advantage,” Sassenrath said. “Increased microbial activity in the soil also enhances the plants ability to absorb needed nutrients. So how do we increase organic matter and microbial activity? One option is reducing tillage to the soil.”
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Every time the soil is tilled, it reduces organic material, breaks down soil structure, and disrupts plant root and fungal hyphae networks, she added. Adding organic material to the soil such as compost, litter, and manure, can increase organic matter, but those materials can be loaded with nutrients, which may be problematic. Adding nutrients to the soil is not bad, but just like eating too much candy will give you a stomach ache, overloading the soil with certain nutrients can cause issues for plants as well.
The use of cover crops is another way to improve soil health and structure, as they can increase soil organic matter and help with weed and erosion control. Attendees at the Feb. 28 meeting will be updated on the latest cover crop research and if they are cost effective and can be profitable to farming operations in the southeast Kansas region.
Registration is not required, but appreciated for an accurate count for lunch. Registration and more information are available by contacting the Southeast Research and Extension office at 620-820-6133.