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New cover crop blends target specific soil-health needs

John O’Connell

Capital Press

Published on September 26, 2016 10:52AM

Southeast Idaho grower Rob Giesbrecht shows a handful of cover crop seeds, direct seeded into wheat stubble, in this file photo from August of 2015. Giesbrecht and others who sell cover crop seed, including Thresher Wheat, are focusing on blends intended to facilitate specific soil-health improvements.

John O’Connell/Capitall Press

Southeast Idaho grower Rob Giesbrecht shows a handful of cover crop seeds, direct seeded into wheat stubble, in this file photo from August of 2015. Giesbrecht and others who sell cover crop seed, including Thresher Wheat, are focusing on blends intended to facilitate specific soil-health improvements.

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Scott Wohltman understands the difficulty growers face in developing cover crop blends with species that coexist well, don’t cause unexpected rotational problems and provide desired soil-health benefits in Idaho’s short growing season.

Wohltman, cover crop lead with Wisconsin-based La Crosse Seed, and Thresher Artisan Wheat have partnered to offer a new service they believe will help Eastern Idaho growers get the most of planting cover crops — which are raised mainly for soil-health benefits.

Starting this fall, Thresher will offer pre-blended cover crop seed mixtures from La Crosse, each aimed at filling a different niche, with a focus on Idaho wheat-and-potato rotations. Seed industry sources say the program furthers a national trend toward researching cover crop blends to meet specific agronomic needs for given regions.

Wohltman said he’s met extensively with innovative Thresher growers to “pinpoint products that might work and challenges going on with their rotations.” He’s also consulted experts with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Thresher’s seed blends have been formulated for erosion control, nutrient scavenging, nematode fumigation, nitrogen fixation and drought tolerance. The nutrient scavenging blend, for example, includes small grains, daikon radish, mustard, turnips and rapeseed, though blends may be further customized at a grower’s request.

Bradford Warner, marketing vice president with Thresher’s parent company, Agspring, said erosion is rampant in Idaho, and cover crops should be part of the solution.

“Losing a ton of topsoil on an acre of land is like the depth of a nickel,” Warner said. “This could be happening invisibly year after year.”

Rob Giesbrecht, an Aberdeen, Idaho, farmer, has developed a cover crop blend he calls Ignite, intended to build nitrogen while naturally fumigating nematodes. Giesbrecht, owner of Pillar Butte Seeds, said about half of the seeds in his blend are proprietary, licensed from a German company.

“Any grower that calls and has a question, the first question I ask them is, ‘What are you trying to achieve?’” Giesbrecht said. “Once they tell us their goals, we can develop a need-specific cover crop (mix).”

Caldwell, Idaho, grower Brad McIntyre sells cover crop blends for Green Cover Seed of Bladen, Neb., with each blend tailored for an individual farmer. McIntyre warns Idaho has strict laws protecting its seed industries that limit cover crop options common in other states. He’s has noticed “building trends” of customers requesting cover crops for fumigation or for cattle forage.

Cameron Williams, a Grace, Idaho, grower, is among the cover crop users who have prioritized cattle forage value. Williams said tailoring cover crop blends makes sense because “there has yet to be a shotgun approach that fits everybody’s situation where everybody’s rotations are so different. What I’m growing in Grace has to be more cold-tolerant than Caldwell.”

Jeff Rasawehr, with Ohio-based Center Seeds, said the cover crop industry is still growing, with especially strong growth among producers planting cover crops for grazing forage value.

Rasawehr added, “A lot more producers want that customized blend for their own particular farm needs.”



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