Novel no-till

Mark Jennings tried something new with no-till this year. He intercropped radishes with field peas. “The idea is that two crops together may do better than each alone,” says Jennings, of Washburn, N.D. He has no-tilled since he started farming in 1997 and has served as president of the Manitoba-North Dakota Zero Tillage Association.

Field peas fix their own nitrogen, and radishes have big taproots that drill deep into the soil and scavenge nutrients. Both crops stimulate biological activity and, in addition to being cash and forage crops, are frequently used in cover-crop mixes to improve soil health.

Key Points

Farmer’s experiment involved seeding field peas with radishes.

Both crops looked good through the season.

Crops together may do better than when planted separately.

Jennings direct-seeded field pea and radish seed at the same time with a John Deere air disk drill. Radish seeds were in one compartment in the air cart. Field pea seeds were in the other. He planted both at normal rates.

Unfortunately, hail hit the field in July, and most of the field peas were lost.

Not getting yield information from the field was disappointing, but the 100-acre experiment isn’t a complete loss, Jennings says. The crops may have grown enough to affect the soil health. He’ll see next year where a small-grain crop does best — on strips where he planted field peas alone or where the field peas and the radishes grew together.

Polyculture — growing multiple crops at the same time — works well with forages and cover crops, says Dwayne Beck, manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm near Fort Pierre, S.D.

“We have done some peas and flax,” he says. “When harvested with a stripper header, the flax stems provide snow catch. It is a nice trick, and there are now some herbicide options. We now do this with a light sprinkling of flax. The flax seldom makes it, or doesn’t make it into the tank. It is a tool for some situations.”

Jennings intends to try interseeding field peas and radishes again. “I think it has some potential,” he says.

Trying out new way to crop

Dwayne Beck and his colleagues at the Dakota Lakes Research Farm are experimenting with a polyculture cropping system he calls “grass and grain” or “pasture cropping.”


TWO IN ONE: Although hail damaged his interseeded field peas and radishes, Mark Jennings is optimistic that two crops together will improve soil health and increase next year’s wheat yield.

This article published in the October, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.