Ellis County Conservation District
Allen Roth rotates wheat, wheat sorghum, and fallow ground on his 710-acre operation in central Kansas. In addition, he raises stocker cattle – around 50 head annually – using an intensive rotational grazing system in the spring and summer months. Allen has been the supervisor for the Ellis County Conservation District for 17 years, and he also serves on the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts’ board of directors.
Allen says he went from a minimum till operation to 100 percent no-till to enhance his soil health and reduce soil erosion caused by wind and water. He has soil tests performed prior to planting wheat or sorghum crops, and with information gleaned from these soil tests, he applies liquid or dry fertilizer – but not anhydrous ammonium. He abandoned this method of nitrogen fertilizer application even though it is a cheaper means of applying nitrogen in order to preserve the life in the soil. He still applies a chemical to control weeds, but because they have developed resistance, controlling weeds has become more difficult, he says.
In addition to participating in EQIP and CSP over the years, Allen has some land enrolled in CRP to control wind and water erosion on sandy soil. All of his farmable acreage is terraced with grassed waterways and for the past seven years, he’s been using cover crops. “Cover crops are planted on fallow land, as well as on other acreage in the fall, allowing for a winter kill on land planted to sorghum the following spring,” Allen told NACD.
“The use of cover crops over the years has yielded mixed results,” however, he continued. During the drought conditions between 2011 and 2013, soil moisture was at a premium and needed to be conserved for the crops, but the covers benefited instead.
“There appears to be a very fine line between benefits from cover crops and the moisture used by the cover crop,” Allen said. “In wheat, there appears to be a yield boost in the second year of the wheat-wheat rotation when the first wheat crop follows a cover crop. At the same time, there also appears to be a yield reduction in wheat the first year following a cover crop. This appears to be a direct correlation to the moisture used by the cover crop.”
The biggest challenge in using cover crops in Allen’s area of the country is managing for soil moisture availability and moisture retention. “At this time, I have not identified the perfect way to address this challenge, but I continue to work on the issue,” he said. Additionally, “the lower commodity prices along with higher input costs associated with resistant weeds are a challenge for my no-till farming operation.”