Have you ever had such a bad hail storm that it totaled your crop? On June 30, a large storm ripped through Nebraska, hitting close to the area I did my summer internship. I did my internship out of the Keene location but visited the Loomis area after the storm came through to evaluate the damage done. Todd Rapstine, the agronomist for that area, let me tag along with him and help with a project he was doing for his growers who had significant damage done to their crops.
Before we went out there, I had already seen some pictures on Facebook of how bad it was, but until you see the fields in person, you have no idea the amount of damage done. When we got to the first corn field I couldn’t remember if I was looking at a hail damaged corn field or a bamboo forest that had just been harvested. When we got to the bean fields it also looked like the field was just harvested. In each field that we went into that was considered totaled (can’t produce a tassel or pod), we took a spade and dug out two 6” deep samples, mixed them up in a bucket, and put them into bags labeled with the farm name and the field they came from.
I know it seems crazy to be taking soil samples for fields that are totaled, and yes I thought the same thing too, but Todd had a reason. His plan was to put a cover crop on these fields and by bringing the soil samples back, we could have a controlled environment to see which seeds would do the best in each soil. It would also give the grower a better idea of how each plant would grow in their soil so they could make a good decision on which seed varieties to pick.
Some common reasons why people use a cover crop on their fields generally after harvest are it gives cattle more to eat and more of a selection when grazing stalks, it also helps hold the soil and moisture in the field and it gives the soil more organic material. All of these reasons are valid, but one thing I remember hearing from an instructor in college is that “Mother Nature does not like to have bare ground and will place any plant there to cover herself up” – Mark Goes. The first plants I think of popping up to cover the bare ground are ones like pig weed, thistles, wild sunflowers, and many other destructive weeds. A better option than allowing the weeds to take over would be to do a cover crop with a mixture of different seeds. If there is a good mix of seed, the cover crop can canopy out all of the unwanted plants plus the field will get some extra benefits to the soil.
Even though this experience this summer was due to a destructive storm, I got to witness and learn more about how Aurora Cooperative steps alongside their growers in times of need. This situation also taught me that if the insurance company determines a field to be totaled, it would be beneficial to help growers look at doing a cover crop to protect the field for the remaining summer months.