When building soil’s organic matter its water-holding capacity is increased. “If you increase the organic matter from 1 percent to 3 percent, it will double the water-holding capacity. That’s huge. That means that much less irrigation is needed. That means there’s that much more moisture available for the plant when we get into a hot, dry summer.”

Another benefit is the cation-exchange capacity (CEC). “For every percentage of organic matter you raise in the soil, you release 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen and 4.5 to 6 pounds of phosphorous. We’ve raised our organic matter on some of our farm from 1 or 2 percent to 5 or 6 percent.”

Dee also uses clover as a cover crop. “You must terminate clover in time. If you don’t, you’ll have trouble getting a stand. We’ve planted corn behind (clover) and got good yields. But we didn’t have a good stand. If we’d terminated the clover in time, we’d have had an excellent corn yield.”

 

Check Current Corn Futures Prices

 

When does Dee terminate? “If it warms up, I’ll terminate cover crops for corn within a couple of days. Then, I wait two weeks and terminate cover crops for soybeans.”

Cover crop residue protects the soil. “An upright cover crop keeps residue in place. And the growing roots feed soil.”

Dee shows a photo of a wheat field on 30-inch beds. “The way we get this out is, if necessary due to ruts, we disk the field down. We then spread the fertilizer and bed it up. We don’t have wheat in the middles but the soil is so heavy that, until we get some tile and better drainage, the crop is better up on a bed.

“We don’t use wheat anymore as a cover crop before corn. That’s because it’s a natural bridge for insects and disease. I learned that lesson only after doing it for a long time. Now, we use rye or oats or a variety of other cover crops.”

For the first time, this year Dee is trying a cocktail of cover crops in several fields. “We used rye, oats, rape, radish, winter peas and maybe a couple of other things. … If you have a lot of different things out there, there’s the possibility of having a lot of good effects.”

Several years ago, Dee decided to up irrigation efforts on the farm. “Cover crops were working, the soil organic matter was good, but we wanted to take out all the risk we could. So, we built a 25-acre reservoir. After one year, we had about a 56 percent return. Over two years, we returned 77 percent. That’s a really good investment for my money.”

Since then, Dee had another, larger reservoir built and put in center pivots around the operation. “We feel it will pay off pretty quickly. We can now irrigate 2,900 acres. We sized it so we could irrigate two-thirds of our crop at one time and put out one inch in three days. Then, we can irrigate the rest.”