While radishes are known for breaking up the soil whereby enhancing water movement, he says farmers need to plant them in a mix, preferably with winter peas. When placed alongside winter peas, the radishes pulled the nitrogen from the peas and the tuber extended 21 inches deep. "The tap root went an additional 36 inches deep," Brandt explains. "That is why I say, this is my tiling system in my soils."
A nutrient system
Last year, Brandt stopped putting any nitrogen on his fields in southern Ohio. Instead, he relied on hairy vetch. He plants it at a seeding rate of 12 pounds per acre. "That hairy vetch produced 236 pounds of nitrogen (per acre)," Brandt exclaims.
His cover crop of choice for nitrogen fixation is the cool-season, annual legume known as Austrian winter peas. Brandt sows these at a rate of 30 pounds per acre. Taking a deeper look into the soil, he found nodulation at 1 ½ inches deep, right where he plants his corn. However, even at depths of 3 to 4 inches there was 90% nodulation. "We found nodulation all the way to 10 inches," he adds.
"It takes management to incorporate cover crops in a row crop system," Weinreich says. "You need to know what you are planting and why. Just because it worked on other farms, it may not work on your farm. You have to be willing to try new things."
Ultimately, the results are in farmer testimonials. Brandt purchased his grandfather's farm of clay based, yellow soil in 1972. At that time, it had an organic matter content of 0.5%. This last year the organic reading was 7.5%. "Our wood lot that has never been farmed is 6.5%," he says. "I never thought we would pass the organic matter on that wood lot. How high can we go? I just don't know."