A diverse mix of small grains and cover crops helps spring come a little earlier on the Arnaud family farm near Monett. In fact, there’s something green and growing on just about every acre that Jim Arnaud farms, just about every month of the year.
“I have been a believer in cover crops for years,” says this veteran no-tiller. “I like cover crops for a number of reasons, but No. 1 is the fact that I like to graze them.”
A fifth-generation farmer, Arnaud milks 100 cows, and runs about 225 beef cows in a cow-calf operation. He and his wife, Trisha, also raise calves from the dairy.
“We always have cattle wanting something to eat,” Arnaud says.
• Southwest Missouri farmer plants a healthy mix of cover crops.
• Jim Arnaud’s cover crops boost cattle grazing and crop fields.
• The combination of intensity and diversity is good for the soil.
With a number of mouths to feed, Arnaud doesn’t let his land take a vacation. Where corn was chopped for silage, he no-till-seeds about 60 pounds of cereal rye and 4 pounds of turnips per acre. Usually in the ground by the first week of September, this lush cover-crop mix is ready for grazing about 50 days later.
“We use a hot wire and strip-graze,” he says. “We try to give the cows about two days’ worth of pasture at each move. The cows just love the turnips.”
The turnips freeze out eventually. Then cereal rye takes over, continuing to grow on mild winter days.
“It really starts to take off in early March,” Arnaud says. “We can then pasture it heavily. We also chop some rye for silage. It makes wonderful feed.”
Small grains, big profits
Barley and wheat also figure into the intensive crop rotation.
“When we have a combine in the field, there’s usually a no-till drill not too far behind,” he says.
“We logged around 800 acres on our no-till drill last fall.”
About 300 acres of that total went to wheat, with 400 acres devoted to cereal rye, and about 100 sowed to barley.
Barley is a favorite fall-seeded crop, good for grazing and grain. Arnaud also puts up the straw. He ammoniates pyramid stacks of big-bale barley straw to make inexpensive but highly palatable forage.
Barley matures a little faster than wheat, which gives a jump to double-crop beans. All Arnaud’s soybean acres are double-cropped behind small grains.
“Over the last few years, I’ve made more money with the wheat-soybean rotation than I have from my corn acres,” he notes. Arnaud grows 800 to 900 acres of corn.
“Our input costs are much lower. We apply 2 tons of poultry litter ahead of the small grains, and that supplies enough P and K to meet the soybean needs as well.”
With wheat prices looking good, Arnaud is putting extra inputs into his crop this year. He has already sprayed to get ahead of winter annuals with a November application of Harmony Extra, and he will be putting on an additional 20 pounds of nitrogen ahead of green-up.
He may add another late-season N application, timed with an application of a group 3 fungicide to hold down wheat scab.
The combination of intensity and diversity is good for the soil.
“It helps us avoid issues of herbicide resistance, since we’re extending our rotations,” Arnaud says. “We have a good earthworm population, and our soils are covered with a nice green mat that saves moisture and protects the soil from erosion.”
GREEN-UP: Jim Arnaud has had success planting cover-crop mixes of cereal rye and turnips for his cattle grazing operation. Cover crops keep soil erosion in check, and turnips are extra-good at breaking up soil compaction in crop fields.
This article published in the March, 2011 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.