Organic Field Day Recap

Buckwheat and Sudangrass

in a Grain Rotation

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Lily Lake Organic Farm
Maple Park, Ill.

 

By Matt Leavitt, MOSES

Buckwheat can be both a cover crop and a cash crop. It increases soil health and reduces the need for tillage. At this OGRAIN field day, veteran organic farmer Dave Campbell explained how he uses buckwheat as well as sorghum/sudangrass in his rotation.

Takeaways:

    • Buckwheat Yield:
      Dave harvests 1000-1200 lbs/acre in a good year.  He has access to bee hives to pollinate the crop for maximum yield. He aims for planting it around July 20 at 50 lbs/acre but this year he was delayed until July 28.

 

    • Market for Buckwheat:
      Dave said that finding a market for buckwheat can be a challenge; there are only a few buyers of buckwheat and if they aren’t buying then selling the crop as cover crop seed is the next best option.

 

    • Crop Rotation & Planting:
      Dave’s typical crop rotation is Corn-Buckwheat-Soybeans, but this has changed slightly in the last number of years to make room for Sorghum/Sudangrass and small grains  in his rotation. He’ll plant corn on 36’’ rows at 30,000 seeds/acre putting on 1-2 tons chicken litter into a red clover cover crop (flown on at 10 lbs/acre) plus a starter fertilizer for fertility. This season he experimented with spring planting both forage peas and peas/oats before a corn crop to evaluate yields and stands.

 

    • Weed Control:
      Canada thistle is one of the more pervasive weeds that Dave deals with. He uses a rotary hoe, quack-grass digger (straight point chisel plow), a cultivator and a Buffalo cultivator for primary weed control.He rotary hoes twice in a season given favorable conditions (once 3-5 days after planting then a second time 3-5 days later) and cultivates 2-3 times after that. He said he typically doesn’t go later than corn spiking with the rotary hoe to avoid cutting out too many plants. But, he also mentioned that if some plants aren’t being hoed out he isn’t being aggressive enough. He typically drives 4 ½ – 6 mph on his equipment to get good control of weeds that emerge in the row.

 

  • Sorghum/Sudangrass:
    Dave uses this as a biomass cover crop. He aims to plant it on July 4 at 45 lbs/acre to get a complete and thick stand. He also finds a window, depending on rotation, to plant at about June 20 as well.

    Standing in front of sorghum/sudangrass, Dave Campbell shared his insights with attendees.

    He cuts the sorghum sudan down with a flail chopper and leaves the residue in place to regrow.  The sorghum/sudan is competitive with every weed in the field (including perennials like Canada thistle and quackgrass) and sets him up nicely for a cash crop the following season, with adequate fertility.  The season of soil building with the sorghum/sudan provides a supercharged source of cover crop biomass and rooting activity, and he has observed a marked uptick in his organic matter over time.

    Organic grain market:
    Merle Kramer from the Midwest Organic Farmer Cooperative advised farmers to think about collectively marketing crops and diversifying income streams to compete in a global and consolidated marketplace for organic commodities. He cautioned that the conventional supply chain and marketing streams won’t be advantageous for organic producers. He also stressed the importance of educating consumers about the confusing array of labels, claims, and practices represented in the grocery store shelves.

 

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