Cover crops have gained a lot of attention lately, including at the Four-State Farm Show near Pittsburg, Kansas, this weekend. Steve Cubbage, president of Prime Meridian, a precision data management company in Nevada, Missouri, says many visitors were drawn to the company's tent by the sign in front of showcasing the deep taproot of the tillage radish.
While cover crops are known for reducing soil erosion, Cubbage notes the tillage radish works particularly well in a no-till situation – especially combined with annual rye. "If you aren't planting wheat or something in the fall, this is a nice way to reduce compaction with tillage radishes and maintain topsoil with rye," he explains.
Prime Meridian GIS operations manager Justin Ogle notes rye can tie up nitrogen in spring if not killed in a timely manner, so it's important to kill it early on when using this blend. On the other hand, tillage radish will take up nitrogen, calcium and sulfur and store these nutrients in the root system. Although rye usually requires a burn down with Roundup in spring, tillage radish usually winter kills. "It is a winter kill product, meaning it will terminate with a couple 20 degree nights," he notes.
Natural tillage tool
The deep roots are also similar to a tillage tool in that they help control weeds, especially winter annuals. "Henbit and chickweed are two of the biggest winter annuals it really suppresses," Ogle says. By doing this, it also helps reduce the amount of herbicides, or tillage needed for those using it. "At a $20 per acre rate, in a sense, most farmers are spending that with chemical application rates or a tillage tool," he says.
Because of these taproots, it also helps improve soil filtration. Ogle notes his experience with tillage radishes. Evidence of infiltration was apparent two months after it died. "You could still go out and see that hollow hole where the tillage radish was."
Although some farmers have used cocktail blends, with up to eight different crops, Ogle says it's better to use a crop that is known to work in a particularly situation, especially when it's hard to know what will work on a specific farm. "I get a little more cautious and say, 'you need to walk before you run,'" he says. "What works on my farm, may not work on my neighbor's farm."