Ever wonder what would happen if you just dumped a shotgun blast of legume, cereal and brassica seeds into the seeder and drilled it in?
Two or more growers in the southwest and southeast corners of the province are needed to do just that, as MAFRI’s polycrop trial enters its second year.
“The multicropping thing, is there an opportunity for us? I believe so as a producer, especially in the lighter soils that we have in these parts,” said Tod Wallace, a MAFRI beef product ion special ist who grew a polycrop last year as part of the trial.
Last year, nine farmers participated in all parts of the province, in a program funded by the Agriculture Sustainability Initiative under Growing Forward.
Two more key areas will be added this year, bringing the total to 11 or 12 sites. MAFRI is especially interested in finding farmers willing to participate in trials in the Melita, Pierson, Tilston area, said Wallace, in a presentation at the recent grazing club meeting in Pipestone.
Each of them seeded four five-acre plots, two of mono-culture barley and two of a polycrop mix that included, per acre, 25 lbs. of barley, 75 lbs. of field peas, two lbs. of turnips, two lbs. of oilseed radish, four lbs. of hairy vetch and eight lbs. of red proso millet. Seed cost came in at $54/ acre.
The barley check strips planted alongside were seeded at a rate of two bushels/acre.
Because the polycrop contained legumes, very little fertilizer is required, which brings total seeding cost down to about $90/acre, compared to $150/acre for the barley.
Soil samples to determine the effect on soil nutrient levels are being taken this spring, he added. One aim of the polycrop mix is to add organic matter to the soil by using a wider variety of plant species, from tap roots to fibrous. This helps to drought-proof soils by making them more porous and improving moisture infiltration and retention.
Improving soil organic matter (SOM) pays big dividends, not just by preventing the soil from blowing away. Roots account for 60-70 per cent of SOM increase, and one per cent increase in SOM translates into 10,000 pounds of soil carbon, 1,000 lbs of nitrogen, 100 lbs of phosphate, and 100 lbs. of sulphur.
The mix can’t be sprayed, so it reduces dependency on pesticides, he added. At any rate, the thick canopy of a polycrop suppresses weeds such as wild oats and wild buckwheat.
“If you dig down, you could see that they were there, but they just didn’t have the strength to get the sunlight and moisture to compete and get above the polycrop,” said Wallace.
Graziers in North Dakota have been using polycrop mixes for years and benefiting from “nature’s pharmacy” which contains a wider variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as tannins that are a natural bloat preventer.
Also, experience has shown that once grazed or cut for silage, the polycrops tend to quickly recover and provide additional grazing later in the season under favourable weather conditions, he said.
Other crops are being used south of the border for polycrops, including sunflowers, soybeans, canola, buckwheat and clover. One polycrop veteran that he knows goes to the local elevator and buys whatever is left over, cheap or even free, and drills it all in together.
With over 17 inches of rain, growth on Wallace’s trial plot just north of Hwy. #1 near Oak Lake was so “thick and rank” that his haybine “coughed and died” while attempting to cut it. He then tried a swather, to no avail. The silage chopper, however, was able to pull it in, he said.
At Oak Lake, the barley yielded slightly more in dry matter, at 3.71 tonnes per acre, compared to the polycrop at 3.11/t/acre. Late harvest, and legions of turnip-hunting deer trampling the crop may have had an effect, he added.
The provincial average showed polycrops yielded 2.16/t/acre, compared to the barley at 1.83/t/acre, and near Eden, the polycrop yielded well over double the dry matter of the barley, at 3.7/t/acre compared to 1.35/t/acre.
Feed analysis showed barley had a TDN advantage at 61.8, compared to the poly at 60.17. However, the polycrop did better in terms of crude protein at 11.33, compared to the barley at 9.37.
“Stay tuned. If anybody’s interested in maybe tying up 20 acres with this to do a little test, by all means, give me a jingle and we’ll definitely hook you up,” said Wallace. daniel. [email protected]