Tuesday, 2 July 2013
Day 15 of my Nuffield Study, Oklahoma State University
What a great day and so eye opening to new opportunities and to conform some of my thoughts are not complete rubbish. If you want to make things happen they will, even if they are considered outside the box. Also you don't know unless you try. The morning started with an office meeting with Dr Brian Arnall, Bob Hunger and my host for the day Dr Jason Warren. We talked about Precision Farming techniques employed here in Oklahoma, namely the Green seeker device for monitoring chlorophyll level in the leaves, before talking wheat breeding traits, drought tolerance and rainfall patterns. Jason and I then headed out for a 12 hour road trip around the trial sites and local farms. We started off with stripper headed harvested wheat, originally drilled at 10"spacings and then soybeans planted between the rows. It looked really odd seeing the stubble standing up missing the ear of wheat but the soybean stand was very good.
Next Jason and I headed to Lahoma, one of the Oklahoma State University trial sites. Here Jason is with the cover crop species trials that he and the team are growing. It was a very interesting comparison to see establishment rates and how the different crops competed with the weeds.
The soil in this part of Oklahoma is actually very good and over a 12 month period this area will have over 30 inches of rain which is more than we get at home. The difference is that the evaporation rate from the soil and the crop is immense. With low humidity, high temperatures and strong winds these fields can loose over 21 inches of moisture. Cover crops would still use up a proportion of this moisture but that moisture would disappear anyway and by using these cover crops, at least nutrients are being locked up and organic matter in the form of root, stems and leaves are being formed to recycle the nutrients. It's a big dilemma for farmers in this area, especially considering the extra cost to the rotation of the seeds.
One man Matt, shown here in his Sorghum Sudan Grass and Cow Peas mix (a row of each planted with a John Deere air seeder) has taken on the cover crop challenge and is doing a great job. The tall stubble protecting the crop from wind (evapo-transpiration) are the grazed remains of forage rye and triticale used to fatten 'stocker' cattle over the winter. Incidentally Matt manages to stock at twice the density of others, due to cover cropping. Matt puts this down to extra moisture retention at planting (August) due to the amount of organic matter covering the soil. When 4" of rain falls in an afternoon it is important that it goes through the soil profile and is protected without washing off or being blown away from bare soil.
Here is another example of the Cow Pea nad Sorghum Sudan Grass which looked equally as well. By the way this was only planted 20 days ago and was already 15" tall! Many thanks to Jason for taking a full day out to show me around and demonstrate the great work that OSU is doing.