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Rick Clark says his family used to destroy their soil every season as they implemented their conventional corn/soybean rotation in Williamsport, Ind. But seeing the soil wash away made Rick realize he needed to make a change.

Now, many years later, Rick calls his approach “regenerative organic stewardship with no-tillage” and the cover crops he uses on every acre play major role in the system.

For this episode of the Cover Crop Strategies podcast, brought to you by Montag Manufacturing, contributing editor Martha Mintz chats with Rick about how he integrates cover crops in a seven-way crop rotation, how nutrients are cycling in his system, why he says weeds aren't always bad and more.

Montag precision metering equipment is helping producers achieve their yield goals while saving on seed and input costs.  For establishing cover crops, Montag’s family of seed platform equipment adapts to a variety of major brand delivery systems that will conserve seed and nutrients along with soil and water. Explore new options for your production and conservation goals with your Montag dealer, or on the Montag Manufacturing website.

 
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The Cover Crop Strategies podcast series is brought to you by Montag Manufacturing.

Montag precision metering equipment is helping producers achieve their yield goals while saving on seed and input costs. For establishing cover crops, Montag’s family of seed platform equipment adapts to a variety of major brand delivery systems that will conserve seed and nutrients along with soil and water. Explore new options for your production and conservation goals with your Montag dealer, visit www.Montagmfg.com or call Montag at (712) 517-2775.

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Julia Gerlach:

Welcome to The Cover Crop Strategies podcast. I'm Julia Gerlach, executive editor. Montag precision metering equipment is helping producers achieve their yield goals while saving on seed and input costs. For establishing cover crops, Montag's family of seed platform equipment adapts to a variety of major brand delivery systems that will conserve seed and nutrients along with soil and water. Explore new options for your production and conservation goals with your Montag dealer or on the Montag Manufacturing website.

Julia Gerlach:

Rick Clark says his family used to destroy their soil every season as they implemented their conventional corn/soybean rotation in Williamsport, Indiana. But seeing the soil wash away made Rick realize he needed to make a change.

Julia Gerlach:

Now, many years later, Rick calls his approach regenerative organic stewardship with no-tillage, and the cover crops he uses on every acre play a major role in the system. For this episode of the Cover Crop Strategies podcast, contributing editor, Martha Mintz, chats with Rick about how he integrates cover crops in a seven way crop rotation, how nutrients are cycling in his system, why he says weeds aren't always bad, and more.

Martha Mintz:

Today we have with us, Rick Clark. Rick, how are you doing today?

Rick Clark:

I'm doing great, Martha. Thank you for asking. How are you?

Martha Mintz:

I'm good. Rick, you are a fifth generation Indiana farmer, a long time no-tiller, a user of cover crops. You've gone so far beyond and are really a regenerative farmer. There's so much to say about what you do, so I'm going to let you do the talking there. Why don't you just give me a little bit of your farming history and where you started and what shifted you and sent you down on this wild path that you're on today?

Rick Clark:

Sure. Well, we have to go back a long time. But my families was some of the worst destructors of the soil in the county. We tilled till deep, tilled till it was black. If it wasn't black, then you did it again. So, after coming out of that kind of a training, let's call it, the first thing is to be able to say to yourself, "Okay, we've got to try something different here."

Rick Clark:

And typically what happens here, Martha, is cover crops are introduced onto a person's farm, usually because of looking at a defensive mechanism. In other words, erosion was our nemesis here. So, we were having erosion that was out of control. I looked at the cover crops as a defensive mechanism to slow that erosion down, which it did. And then as you go deeper into this journey, you find out that these cover crops become an absolute offensive juggernaut. And we'll talk about that in a little bit.

Rick Clark:

But yeah, the journey has gone from mass destruction of soil to now we are organic with no-tillage, 100% cover crop, 100% no-till. So, it's been quite a journey, but I'll tell you, I wouldn't have it any other way. I really like where we're sitting.

Martha Mintz:

Great. Now, a lot of times when people hear the words organic or regenerative, they're thinking of quite small farms. Would you mind telling us just a little bit about what all your operation encompasses and what all crops you're growing?

Rick Clark:

Sure. Right now we have a seven crop rotation and this is not in any particular order. It's corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, yellow peas, Milo and cattle. And then I have a plus one that I call it, is regen. And regen is when you actually take an acre out of production and you give it a massive, cool season cocktail to start the season off with, then you come behind with the warm season cocktail. And that warm season cocktail may have some of the beginnings of your cocktail you need for the next cash crop.

Rick Clark:

And if you need to augment that, then we'll come back with a third pass and we will then put the species in that we want for the cash crop for the following year. We're farming right now, approximately around 7,000 acres, so we have to think about things on scale. I'm deeply concerned about building soil health and I'm deeply concerned about building human health.

Rick Clark:

So, when you think about farming in those two methods, tillage has to stop. It just simply has to stop because the destruction we're doing to the soil and the microbial biome is just too much of a shock for the system. So, that's why a lot of people say, I'm nuts. I'm crazy. "Why would you try to do this?"

Rick Clark:

But Martha, this is where I want to be. I mean, I'm not saying that this is the end-all be-all. This is just where I want to be with our farm, this is where everyone on the farm, all the team members, all the family members, that's where they want to be. So, it's about that human health/soil health aspect, how they're intertwined.

Martha Mintz:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So now, I mean, when you came back to the farm, whenever you came back to the farm, I'm assuming when you came in, it was a pretty maybe just soybean and corn and to where you are now is crazy complex. What were your first steps? Did cover crops come first? Did no-till come first? How did you progress?

Rick Clark:

Yeah, no-till came first and it was no-till soybeans. And I would highly recommend that anyone starting down this journey, you no-till beans first and then you start with cereal rye with the soybeans. Because no-till corn in itself is difficult, but corn does not like compaction. And no matter how good of a job we all do, we've got compaction.

Rick Clark:

So, I feel like you need to be into this at least a couple years. So, my thought process on this would be something like start with soybeans, and then maybe go into a cereal grain that next year. And that cereal grain comes off in mid-summer, and do not double crop another crop behind that cereal grain. And then put a warm season cocktail out, and then put your final cocktail out and get ready then to go to corn that following year.

Rick Clark:

So, you've given almost three years of building a little bit of soil health and trying to minimize or mitigate compaction a little bit before we go into this no-tilling corn.

Rick Clark:

And then, once you now are in this system, you can't get enough, and you're researching, and you're going to conferences, and you're hearing people talk, and you hear the same things repeated a lot of the times. You've got to add diversity, you've got to get cash crop rotations. So, you start thinking about these things. And here's the other important thing about this, Martha, is we had to stop thinking about the market that's only 15 minutes in your back door. That market's still there. But if you want to raise organic soybeans, they're probably going to get shipped two or three hours away from where your home location is.

Rick Clark:

So, you have to start to accept that. For example, we ship beans all the way into Minneapolis, Minnesota now. So about eight hours, one way.

Martha Mintz:

Oh, wow.

Rick Clark:

Corn's being shipped an hour and a half one way. And we're working on figuring out how to ship Milo down into Texas. So, that's where this thing all goes. It becomes more of a regional, systematic approach than just an approach out your back door.

Martha Mintz:

Well, and speaking of where people should start, we should also mention that something else you do, you have a consulting business as well? Is that correct?

Rick Clark:

Yes.

Martha Mintz:

Tell me a little bit about what that's called and what you specifically focus on consulting?

Rick Clark:

Yeah. It's called Farm Green. You can get more information about this at our website, www.farmgreen.land. And what this is, is it's a consulting approach that will take and help, we're going to apply all of the principles of soil health, and I think there's six of them. And we're going to apply all six of those principles and we're going to help the farmer get to the position where they want to get to.

Rick Clark:

Some folks just want to get to starting cover crops and maintaining three or four species. And that's all the complexity or diversity they want, and that's fine. Then they may be done with this in a couple of years. We show them how to get to there. Then they're on their own. Boom, that's one way.

Rick Clark:

Maybe another way is someone that wants to truly minimize synthetic inputs or just inputs in general. And maybe their goal is a 50% reduction of inputs while still maintaining adequate yields, if not same or better than they had before they started this approach. That would be like a second tier.

Rick Clark:

Then a third tier would be someone who wants to go pretty much all the way and leave the synthetic inputs behind, learn how to build soil health, build human health and farm for the future with zero input. Well, it's not zero input. I mean, we still got to plant corn or beans, but pretty much zero inputs of synthetic fertilizers or synthetic chemistries.

Rick Clark:

So, that's it in a nutshell, but it's just a... I mean, we don't have all the answers. Nobody has all the answers. If they say they do, you need to find somebody else because this changes by the minutes. So, if I have proclaimed to say in public, I have the answers, I was wrong. I do not. But the point is, I truly believe that what we're trying to do here is gaining traction. I mean, we see articles in magazines. We get folks like you, Martha, that are now starting podcasts to continue to spread the word. I mean, this is very, very important that we keep this information in front of everyone at all times.

Martha Mintz:

You know, we may not have all the answers, but you certainly have made some forward progress, I think, in researching about what all you've done. I think what's as interesting as what you do use is what you don't use. Why don't you talk a little bit about what inputs you've been able to reduce or completely eliminate through your diversity in crops and cover crops.

Rick Clark:

Right. Yeah. And that in itself is a journey of its own. We've been no-tilling soybeans for about 17 years and corn for about 14 years. So, when you start to think back on that and then you come forward in time, it takes about six or seven years, in my opinion, to really start to see that soil change for the benefit of starting to reduce synthetic inputs.

Rick Clark:

Now, let me rephrase this. I don't mean that it takes six or seven years to see the soil change. That's not what I meant, because it can change within a season of you implementing these soil health principles. What I mean is, to get to the point to where we can start to reduce inputs, it's a six or seven year journey.

Rick Clark:

Here's how we started. And no offense to my agronomist. He came with a normal recommendation and I said, "I'll tell you what, we're going to cut those by 25% and let's see what happens."

Rick Clark:

So, we did it by 25% for two years, saw no change in fertility. So then we went to 50% for two years, saw no change in fertility. So, we continued to decrease. We got to 60% reduction, and I think we got maybe to 70% and then I said, you know what? I'm done. We're not putting on P or K anymore. And let's monitor our soil tests and let's see what's happening. And that's what we're doing and nothing's crashing. Everything is staying the same if not rising in some instances.

Rick Clark:

We have eliminated synthetic nitrogen. This will be the third year now that we're no longer using nitrogen. We are growing the nitrogen we need and we are educating ourselves more and more on the microbial biome. And we are now starting to what I call turn on certain sectors of the biome that, for example, fix nitrogen.

Rick Clark:

There's a group of microbes that will fix enough nitrogen in the ground that you can raise corn with zero synthetic inputs. So, we just have to get those stimulants into the profile to turn those groups on and then we can truly start to minimize, if not eliminate all of these inputs.

Rick Clark:

So, we've not put any P or K down for eight years, and we've not put any synthetic N down for three years. So, I feel very proud about that. And probably the most thing I feel... Well, there's two things I really feel proud about. That is the fact that we're not dependent on these synthetic inputs. So, when you get these extremely volatile situations that are occurring around the world, we tend to be a little bit buffered from that. And that's a good thing, because believe me, I got 50 other things to worry about.

Rick Clark:

And then the second thing that I really like about this is this human health aspect. By eliminating these caustic chemicals, and herbicides, and pyrethroids, insecticides and fungicides, we are starting to make ourselves more healthy by not being exposed to those. And believe me, I've been exposed to them my whole life and I'm so thankful that my children who are now coming on board have very... I'm not sure my youngest daughter, Rachel, has ever been around chemicals at all. And that is a good thing.

Martha Mintz:

That is a good thing.

Rick Clark:

Yeah. And I'm really trying to focus in on this human health soil health aspect.

Martha Mintz:

Yeah. Well, it all those hand in hand. You save the exposure. It's good all the way across the board. So, there are a lot things that you don't use, but if I'm understanding this correctly, what you do need to produce is biomass. You can't be growing a puny little cover crop out there. You need biomass. Talk to me a little bit about what you consider success in a cover crop [inaudible 00:15:52] and how you quantify that.

Rick Clark:

Sure. Let's go back, Martha. I want to go back a little bit in time when we were still using chemistry. Okay? That's how I want to start this conversation. You do not realize, the farmer, does not realize how important planting date and amount that you plant of a cover crop in the fall is important until you start to remove chemistry.

Rick Clark:

So, for example, we were in this mode years back where we were planting cover crops, say, 70 pounds of cereal rye going to be planted in the fall ahead of a soybean crop next spring with all the intentions of using chemistry to either, A, terminate that cereal rye, or B, help mitigate weed pressure.

Rick Clark:

Okay. That works great. I highly recommend that anyone should be able to farm that way. It's fairly easy. It's fairly simple. And you still have that easy button of chemistry to bail you out if a problem occurs.

Martha Mintz:

Which can be very comforting.

Rick Clark:

Yes, that's very comforting. You're exactly right. Let's move forward now in time where I've taken all that chemistry away. When you do this, it is imperative that the cover crop is planted as early as possible in the spring and that you are using amounts that will give you biomass, amounts upwards of 10,000 pounds of dry matter biomass, 10,000 pounds. That's a lot.

Rick Clark:

So, for example, Martha, if we were going to roll down six foot tall cereal rye with approximately 10 to 12,000 pounds of dry matter biomass, when we were done rolling that down with the crimper, it would be about 9 to 10 inches deep.

Martha Mintz:

Holy cow.

Rick Clark:

So, that [crosstalk 00:17:55] is over the top of the soil profile. So, biomass is critical in many ways here. And let's talk about it. Number one, weed suppression. Okay? That's the world I live in now.

Rick Clark:

So, we have to suppress weeds with this biomass, this cover crop that we're growing. Okay, that's number one. And I have a rule here. I have a 70/30 rule. 70% of the weed suppression is coming from that cover crop cocktail that you planted and mechanically terminated. And 30% of the weed suppression is coming from the cash crop canopy.

Rick Clark:

So, it's very important that we get these cash crops growing up through these cover crops. Let that 70/30 rule hold until we can get the canopy. And then the canopy of the cash crop will go ahead and suppress the weeds for you. So, that's number one.

Rick Clark:

Number two here is this biomass is armoring the soil. And when we armor the soil, we're doing many things here. Let's think about rain events. Typically, on a rain storm, the raindrops are traveling at about 30 miles an hour as they come down and absolutely smash into the soil on the earth at 30 miles an hour.

Rick Clark:

And they are creating compaction. And not only are they creating compaction, but those raindrops are also creating small aggregates of soil that are now easily and readily available to move with this water event and create erosion. So, that's not good. So, the cover crop mulch that you have is going to greatly reduce this compaction from the raindrops, because the rain is hitting this layer, this mat, this fat, whatever you want to call it, and then dispersing down through that profile, much less of a violent reaction to the surface of the soil.

Rick Clark:

And then the last thing that I want to talk about biomass is the limit of evaporation. So, we are working hard to build soil health, build aggregate stability, increase water infiltration rates, increase water holding capacity, increase organic matter. All of these things help us fill the profile with moisture and hold that moisture in the profile.

Rick Clark:

But if you do not have your profile covered with an armor, then you get these 95 degree days out when your cash crop has not canopied yet and the moisture is quickly evaporated into the atmosphere. And that's not good because when we get to the dog days of summer, we need that precious moisture in the profile to then continue to feed our cash crop when it hasn't rained for three weeks.

Martha Mintz:

Right. So, beyond the armoring of the soil, which is its first job, eventually all of that biomass is going to go into the soil.

Rick Clark:

Sure.

Martha Mintz:

Is that worth noting or measuring?

Rick Clark:

Oh, yeah.

Martha Mintz:

So, talk to me about how you measure or understand what that biomass is giving you.

Rick Clark:

Right. And yes, that's a great point, Martha. And this is probably the most important thing that I left out was feeding the microbes. By putting this biomass down, we are feeding the microbes and microbes now are doing their job. They are transforming this material into an organic state of a nutrient or a mineral that now that cash crop can get to.

Rick Clark:

So, for example, when we're rolling down legume cocktails that maybe have a carbon to nitrogen ratio of, say, 15:1, that is going to get eaten up very quickly by the microbes because a microbe likes to live in about a 12:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio world. So, we give them a 15:1 and they're going to quickly eat that up. So, we are feeding those microbes, we are letting them thrive and letting this engine run at peak performance.

Rick Clark:

So, again, let's go back to tillage. I just am against tillage all the way because if you till, you are destroying these microbial biomes. For example, the Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi have to be present because they are the communication backbone of this whole network. There's not going to be a transaction of a nutrient or a mineral, unless it goes through that fungi, that Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

Rick Clark:

So, if we are tilling the soil, we are damaging and destroying that system to where all it's doing is repairing itself. So, once you get beyond tillage, you get to where you are now laying down 12, 13,000 pounds of biomass. And by the way, Martha, to get to these kind of numbers, we have to let these cover crops grow far into their maturity. So, planting corn on April the 10th is not going to happen anymore. We now plant all of our corn after Mother's Day. It's typically after May 20th.

Martha Mintz:

Oh, wow.

Rick Clark:

And we plant soybeans at the end of April/1st of May, because we are wanting to maximize what these cover crops are doing for us, not only the biomass but all of the nutrients that they are either, A, sequestering, or B, fixing through nodulation. So, it's very important that we let these cover crops now grow into maturity before we terminate.

Julia Garlock:

We'll get back to the podcast in a moment, but I want to take time once again, to thank our sponsor. Montag precision metering equipment is helping producers achieve their yield goals while saving on seed and input costs. For establishing cover crops, Montag's family of seed platform equipment adapts to a variety of major brand delivery systems that will conserve seed and nutrients along with soil and water. Explore new options for your production and conservation goals with your Montag dealer or on the Montag Manufacturing website. And now, back to the podcast.

Martha Mintz:

Have you tested dry matter and seen how the nutrient levels in your cover crops change based on when they're terminated or have you looked at that at all?

Rick Clark:

Oh, yeah. We are now testing cereal rye. I've changed this test a couple of times. We plant cereal rye in the fall and what we're up to now, we start to fall at 130 pounds and you want to plant a single variety. I don't much care what variety you plant, but make sure it's a single variety because you want it all to mature at the same time next year, but we plant Elbon.

Rick Clark:

So, we start with 130 pounds to the acre of Elbon cereal rye. It'll grow in the fall, it'll go into dormancy, it'll come out of dormancy next spring. And we start sampling on every Monday. And what you do is you go out and you measure out a two foot by two foot square, and you clip everything that's in that square at the ground level, you put it in a bag and you send it to your lab. And the lab will send you back a feed analysis of that sample and it will tell you how many nutrients are in that aboveground material.

Rick Clark:

For example, and I'm not going to get these numbers exact, but I'm going to try to pull this out of my memory. A 12 inch rye plant, we have seen 84 pounds of N 30 or 40 pounds of P, and 60 or 70 pounds of K in that 12 inch plant. And up to a 28 inch tall plant, we've seen upwards of 130 pounds of N, maybe 80 pounds of T and 200 pounds of K.

Rick Clark:

So, if you're going to plant soybeans into that cover crop, this is why you no longer need any more P or K. We are pulling these nutrients from deep within the profile, back to the surface, regenerating, recycling, whatever the word you want to use is, and we are now making these nutrients available for the cash crop.

Rick Clark:

Now, they're not all available at once here at the beginning, but once the microbes start their process, an abundance of these nutrients will be available in a matter of short time, like three to four weeks. And now you've got the fuel that that crop needs to go on and produce a viable seed and give you yield at the end of the day.

Rick Clark:

Same thing with legume packages. Martha, we have seen legume packages, if you let them go to maturity, I'm talking where I'm at in West Central Indiana, June the 4th, to June the 8th, we can get upwards of 260 pounds of nitrogen fixed in just the above ground material. This is huge. So, this is where I ask every farmer to just step out of your comfort zone just a little bit and go with me here in today's market a pound of N is probably a dollar a unit of N, if not higher. So, we're going to save $50 an acre on just your N application.

Rick Clark:

Now, this cocktail's going to cost about $25. So, we're already $25 ahead on the cost of the cocktail. Plus, we're bringing in all of the value of those other nutrients. The P, the K, the boron, the manganese, the sulfur, all of these other things that we haven't even talked about yet are coming on for that same $25. So, it's an absolute no-brainer to be implementing some of these practices to at least some kind of a degree on your operation.

Martha Mintz:

So, when you are doing those tests, your goal to determine when the best time to terminate it is, or is your goal to evaluate it and say, "This is what I have available." Probably not since you're not using most of that stuff, but what value is it to you to continue testing the biomass at the different levels on your farm? Or are you done with that now that you-

Rick Clark:

No. No. Martha, this is my fail safe way to sleep at night. Because what we're going to do for this cereal rye is we're going to go out on that first warm Monday, when it's coming out of dormancy, and we're going to take a sample. And we're going to take a sample every Monday all the way till we harvest that cash crop.

Rick Clark:

Because I want to see, are we still pulling nutrients to the surface and recycling them through sequestration? And when are those nutrients truly available at a level that is enough to feed that cash crop? That's kind of my secondary way of taking a soil test and seeing what is there in the soil. And this is nature's way of taking this test. Because I no longer do the traditional soil testing methods because I never liked them anyway. I don't like how they do the testing. They use caustic acids. It's just a lot of things that are looking at as if the soil was dead.

Rick Clark:

I'm trying to look at as if the soil is alive and let's do this testing. And also, I think, Martha, if we can look at trends of when this occurs, we can then match up our planning dates to be at peak performance of when those nutrients are available. So, I think there's many reasons why we do this.

Martha Mintz:

So, is it selfish or should somebody else on an individual farm, is it important for them to do similar testing or can we look at your testing and just say we're okay, we can rely on what Rick says?

Rick Clark:

No, I think it's some of both, Martha. I think you can look at what Rick's saying, and that gives you the idea to take that home and do it on your farm. But you have to do this testing on your farm. You've got to do the trials on your farm. You have to do all of this because there is no cookie cutter one prescription works for everybody. This is a systematic approach that is then carried out on your farm, your region of the world, your own systematic approach that you become comfortable with.

Rick Clark:

I mean, you may reach a point where you just say, "You know what, great that Rick can do that, but I cannot get to total elimination here. I'm not seeing it in the numbers." That's fine. Then push it. Push it to 70% reduction and then use 30% augmentation. But no, you make a very good point. I'm just trying to give out ideas to stimulate thinking process that people can go home and do these things on their farm.

Martha Mintz:

Sure. Now, you talked about cereal rye individually, and then you talked about a legume mix. Have you seen anything interesting as you tested that biomass when things were in mixes or how the different species interact with each other? Has there been any surprises or cool things you learned in your testing?

Rick Clark:

Yeah, that's another good question. You got all kinds of good questions for me today. Yeah, I'll tell you. Now, we got to be careful here what I'm getting ready to talk about. Because this is where I can get taken out of context a little bit. I can no longer use a lot of the perennial species because I cannot terminate them. Okay?

Martha Mintz:

Right.

Rick Clark:

But if you are still using chemistry, then by all means incorporate perennials into these diverse cocktails that we're planting. Because, Martha, again, you bring up an excellent point. When you can introduce a rape or canola or chicory, or maybe Italian ryegrass or something, you can now start to have different types of root systems in this cocktail.

Rick Clark:

Those, maybe not the Italian rye grass, but the chicory and the rape or canola are going to go down deep with roots. And they're going to pull, especially a chicory, they're going to pull nutrients that are four and five feet deep compared to your grasses that are going to stay more at the surface with all those hairy, fibrous roots. But it is absolutely amazing when you take some of those deep tap roots out of a cocktail and only look at a fibrous root system. You're going to see a lot different numbers.

Rick Clark:

And typically what you're going to find are numbers that are less with the fibrous root systems than you will with those deep tap systems. And I also want to go another way with this. Let's talk weeds now. Everybody says weeds are no good. You can't have weeds. Well, I agree to some amount of weeds that are out there, to some pressure.

Rick Clark:

Obviously, if you have 100% weed stand and you are hampering your yield of your cash crop, that's not good. But I do these crazy things. And I thought, "You know, let's go out and let's pull a pigweed, and let's pull a marestail and all these weeds that we have, and let's do the same test on those weeds that we would do on a cover crop."

Rick Clark:

And Martha, you would be shocked at the amount of nutrients that are in the weeds that are being pulled. Because most weeds that we have to deal with are tap rooted, deep weeds. And like lamb's quarters. And they are bringing tremendous amount of nutrients back to the surface.

Rick Clark:

So yes, weeds are not good, but you don't have to worry if you have a few weeds because they are doing you some good. And if you are a livestock person, weeds at the right time have a tremendous amount of nutrient density for that cow, or that animal to feed. For example, waterhemp, if you were to make baleage or haylage out of waterhemp at the correct time, you would be shocked at the nutritional value that's in that forage or that leaf part of that structure above ground. Now, am I promoting that? No. But what I'm saying is a few weeds here and there are not a bad thing.

Martha Mintz:

Well, maybe we'll have to start raising some weeds as a monoculture. Just kidding.

Rick Clark:

I wish we had a target because foxtail's my problem right now. And I think we're going to work through it, but foxtail is the biggest problem on the farm right now. But I think I got some answers for that and we'll try to do... Next time we talk, I'll maybe have some better clarity on that.

Martha Mintz:

Sure. Well, we are running out of time to a certain extent here, but I did want to quickly ask, you talk a lot about producing a lot of biomass, but then I also know you have livestock in your operation as well. And I know we could probably talk for another 45 minutes about that, but is there concern with livestock using [inaudible 00:36:50] biomass in your system?

Rick Clark:

Yeah, that's another good thought. It becomes part of your rotation. So, typically, what we're doing here on our farm is, if there's an animal grazing on a forage package, then that field will not be planted to a cash crop until the following year. So, we are still going to follow the rules that the grazers have laid out, 50% reduction of the above ground material and so on and so on. We're still going to follow those rules. And then we're going to graze the animal across.

Rick Clark:

So, I like to look at that as sometimes, A, I talked earlier about the regen where you take that acre out of production. Well, sometimes if you have that infrastructure built, so in other words, you've got the fence built and you have a water supply, then let's let the cattle also graze, and they're going to help build soil health and get them in, out and across that acre back out so we can plant the warm season cocktail and get ready for next year's crop.

Rick Clark:

So typically, when we're grazing, we are not going to plant a cash crop in that same year. Now, there are folks, especially out west, on wheat, that do that all the time. They'll graze wheat in the early spring, pull them off and then graze the wheat crop. That's great. You've got to have the right kind of soil to do that. We don't have that kind of soil.

Rick Clark:

If we had cattle on our wheat in the spring, it would be a mud mess. There would be compaction. They would actually probably destroy the wheat. They'd probably hurt yield. We do not have the right kind of soil to do that. So, again, context. That's one of the principles of soil health. Where are you located in the world and what can you get away with and how can you do it?

Rick Clark:

So, yes, we have cattle. I love cattle. I love the way they build soil health. If you want to build soil health, the quickest way and the most efficient way, you need cattle. It's not for everybody. We do not raise a cash crop in the same year that we rotationally graze.

Martha Mintz:

Except for beef.

Rick Clark:

Right. Except for that beef because they are gaining and they are building nutrient density and then they will go to town to become hamburger and steaks one day. Yes.

Martha Mintz:

I think the one other piece of the puzzle that we really need to lock in here before we go is, you talk about 10,000 pounds of biomass and planting into an eight inch malt of cereal. But you also talk about not having chemical in your organic operation. And then you also talk about planting green. How are you doing this? Do you have a specific setup on your planter to be able to plant into this? How are you terminating it if you're planting into it green? What's that part of the puzzle?

Rick Clark:

Sure. Well, let's talk soybeans and cereal rye. Again, I cannot stress enough. If you get, and again, context. Where are you? When is your freeze date? Back up 45 days from your freeze date? Can you plant your cover crop in that window? If you say yes, then I want you to plant cereal rye, I want you to plant oats with that. I want you to plant sunflower, sorghum-sudan, Sunn Hemp, tall peas, radish, turnips. All of these things I just mentioned will all winter kill except the rye. Then all you're left with is that cereal rye next spring.

Rick Clark:

Okay. Now, what we're doing is we're planting soybeans into the cereal rye green at boot stage. So, that's not a particular date. It's a grow stage of the cereal rye. Now, in the region where I'm at. And I'll be a little bit more specific, I am exactly in line with the Iowa/Missouri border. So, all of Iowa is north of me, all of Missouri is south of me. Come right across the state of Illinois, three miles into Indiana and that's where we are.

Rick Clark:

Okay. When you do this, we're planting green soybeans into the rye at boot stage, which for us is typically April 25th to May 5th. So now we're going to let those beans grow and they're going to get to about V2 growth stage. And then somewhere around June the 1st, this rye is going to [recathosis 00:41:30].

Rick Clark:

Again, it's not a date, it's a growth stage. It's dropping pollen. And that's when the lignin is the highest. And this is when we can terminate mechanically with a roller crimper. And we are now rolling the rye and the V2 growth stage beans down together all at the same time. Rolling everything down.

Rick Clark:

So, we've now created this malt and this mulch for the beans to grow up through. Because they're already a V2, you're not going to hurt these beans. They're going to lay over and stand right back up. So, we've already taken a care of this eight inches of malt that I was talking about because the beans are going to wiggle right through this. They got the sunlight and away we go. So, that's soybeans.

Rick Clark:

Corn. We are growing the nitrogen we need with these legume packages. And we have to let these legume packages grow and really maximize their nitrogen fixing capabilities. So, somewhere around May 25th to June the 1st, we are going to pull in with our planter. And by the way, we have nothing special on our planter. There's not a no-till coulter. There is not any row cleaners. It's just a double disc owner and a closing system. That's it.

Rick Clark:

And we will then pull in to this knee-high legume package and no-till plant corn. And then we will come back typically three to four days and roll this down. So, that's how we achieve planting green and then terminating. Very rarely do we terminate before we plant. It's almost always after we plant.

Martha Mintz:

Well, that sounds terrifying to a lot of people, I'm sure. I've noted that you have a mantra that you live by, that if you're not comfortable with what you're doing, then you're not trying hard enough to change. I feel like a lot of the things you've talked about are things that might be uncomfortable for people, but you've obviously worked through that. What I really want to know in closing here is what are you doing right now that makes you uncomfortable?

Rick Clark:

Oh, boy. That's a good one. I sleep very well at night. I don't worry about too many things. And what good does it do? Because you got to be sharp for tomorrow. So, sitting up at night worrying doesn't do you any good. What energizes me right now, I'll tell you what energizes me right now, is epigenetics and finding microbial stimulants that are inherent within my region to now introduce to the system to turn certain microbes on. That's what I'm going to dedicate most of my time remaining here to, is epigenetics and finding the microbes, the stimulants, whatever you want to call them that are inherent in nature.

Rick Clark:

So, in other words, go out into that woods that's in my back door and collect the leaves from that woods and let them formeth down and create this tea. And then take that tea out and start to replicate that into the system and see if we can't turn on certain sectors of this microbial biome.

Rick Clark:

And then epigenetics, you can look that word up to find the definition. But in a nutshell, what we're starting to do now is we've gone back in time and we've found seeds that are off patent. This is very important here. We cannot do this to seeds that are still under patent because you're breaking the law. So, we went back 35 years and we got soybean seeds from 10 varieties and we grew them out and we are now, we started with just a handful of seeds, and then you grow those out. You do it by hand. Then you harvest those. And now you've got maybe 40 pounds. Then you plant 40 pounds. And now, hopefully, you have 2000 pounds and now you're ready to go bigger scale on your farm.

Rick Clark:

So, the theory here is, we are no longer going to buy soybean seed. We are going to plant seeds that are from genetics that have never been tampered with for a GMO. And we are going to allow these genetics to adapt to our system. We're doing the same thing with corn. We just started doing corn and we went back 85 years for corn genetics. We're doing the same thing with cover crop seed. We're going to start saving all of our own seed. We're no longer going to introduce any more genetics. And we're also doing this with our livestock herds.

Rick Clark:

We have the group of animals that we want based on our criteria. And we will hopefully no longer add any outside sources of genetics. We're trying to do this through mother nature with epigenetics. That's what really excites me right now.

Martha Mintz:

Well, it sounds like we're going to have a lot more interesting things to talk about in the future, Rick, but I think that'll do it for today. So, thank you so much for your time. And hopefully, some folks get out there and get uncomfortable themselves.

Rick Clark:

Well, thank you, Martha. This has been a pleasure. And keep up the great work. Thank you.

Julia Gerlach:

Thanks to Williamsport, Indiana no-tiller Rick Clark for that conversation about transitioning from soil destruction to soil regeneration with cover crops. And once again, we'd like to thank our sponsor Montag precision metering equipment is helping producers achieve their yield goals while saving on seed and input costs.

Julia Gerlach:

For establishing cover crops, Montag's family of seed platform equipment adapts to a variety of major brand delivery systems that will conserve seed and nutrients along with soil and water. Explore new options for your production and conservation goals with your Montag dealer or on the Montag Manufacturing website. For more information about all things cover crops, visit us online at covercropstrategies.com