Cover Crop Tour Covers Lower Gunnison and Lower Uncompahgre Valleys

On Oct. 29, 2013 the second annual cover crop tour of the Uncompahgre and Gunnison valleys was held despite some unsettled weather.   The tour was organized and led by soil health team member, local composter, and farmer Jack Graff, along with Shavano Conservation District Irrigation Specialist and soil health team member Jerry Allen and Delta Conservation District Irrigation Specialist John Miller.

The event began with a stop at an Excelsior Orchards in Paonia, Colorado.  Owner and operator Paul Maudlin conducted a tour of his operation, where the group viewed a variety of different fruit trees, cover crop mixes, and ages of cover crop stands.  Mr. Maudlin uses cover crops as permanent vegetation, inter-seeded between tree rows to help reduce moisture loss and improve natural fertility. 

Mr. Maudlin also showed the group his micro jet irrigation system including the emitters and where he introduces products into his lines.  Excelsior Orchards uses combinations of compost teas, sulfuric acid, and liquid fertilizers applied through the irrigation system.  Mr. Maudlin related that the use of sulfuric acid has reduced the pH of his irrigation water from around 8.0 to near neutral and has resulted in fertilizers savings, as soil pH has gone down and soil nutrients have become more available at the lower pH levels.

The next stop in the tour was at Zack’s Barbecue in Paonia, for lunch, sponsored by Delta County Economic Development. From there the tour travelled west for a stop at Jack Graff’s farm, in Delta, where the group got to see a nice stand of 7-way mix, consisting of oats, tillage radish, purple top turnip, sunflower, proso millet, vetch, and spring pea.  

After Jack’s the tour moved south and west to Peagreen, where a similar mix to Jack’s was seen on a field farmed by Ahlberg Farms. Ahlberg’s cover crop after early sweet corn was a featured stop in last year’s tour.  The Ahlbergs were so pleased with last year’s results that he has almost tripled the number of cover crop acres under his farming operations this year.

The tour continued to roll south and in a rain squall got to view the cover crop mix on Brent Hines’ operation.  This 6 way mix featured sorghum-sudan, triticale, purple top turnips, nitro radishes, hairy vetch, and spring pea was planted in mid-August following sweet corn.

The final stop of the day was on a another field farmed by the Ahlbergs and featured a 10-way mix of peas, lentils, sorghum-sudan, pearl millet, oats, nitro radish, purple top turnip, rapeseed, sunflower, and buckwheat.  Like the other stops in the tour on fields planted after cash crops, the cover crop stand was growing vigorously with an almost 100 percent ground cover and vertical plant growth of two feet or more, with some of the species in the mix having a potential of 2 to 4 weeks of additional growth before being killed by hard freezes.

Nineteen people participated in this year’s cover crop tour, down a bit from last year.  However, the interest in using cover crops is beginning to take off here in the two valleys.  Total number of acres of cover crop plantings, after cash crops, is estimated to have more than doubled from last year.  From monocultures featuring triticale or sorghum-sudan, to 10 or 12 way mixes, the use of cover crops after harvest of early sweet corn or other crops such as wheat, is starting to spread across the area’s farming community.  These cover crops are utilized with a multiple number of benefits in mind, including use as a green manure to increase soil carbon and soil nutrients, to enhancing soil attributes such as improving soil structure and breaking up compacted layers, to mining deeper soil nutrients and tying up nutrients, reducing loss through deep percolation and having additional nutrients and soil carbon for use next growing season, to providing grazing opportunities for livestock.

Cover crop use in the area helps to address three of the basic soil health principles; keeping a living root, diversify crops, and keeping the ground covered. These cash-cropped fields in the past have usually been left fallow after harvest until next growing season.  In the past they have also been often disked and left with bare exposed soil surfaces for 8 months.

On a related note; the area’s soil health team would like to extend an invitation to attend the fourth annual soil health conference, scheduled for January 23rd and 24th.  Last year’s two-day conference was attended by over 200 participants daily.  This year’s conference main themes will be cover crops and strip tillage equipment for use under furrow irrigation. Some of the featured speakers for the conference will be on the first day, Brendon Rocky, from Rocky Farms in the San Luis Valley, Gail Fuller, producer from Emporia, Kansas, and Keith Burns from Green Cover Seed in Nebraska.  The theme for the day will be Cover Crops.  On Friday, featured speakers will be Dave Zimmerer representing Schlagel Equipment out of Wyoming, Dave and Mike Peterson from Orthman Equipment out of Nebraska, and Eric Wardle with CSU. 

First Colorado Snowpack Report for the 2013-2014 Snow Season 11/4/2013


Snowtel 1

Off to a really good start this year.  Hopefully the snowpack amounts will stay up there.  State median is 146% vs.  26% this time a year ago.  Of course these numbers are very preliminary and will change dramatically.


Grass and clover on subsurface drip tape.

This field of grass and clover is being watered by subsurface drip tape.  It takes thirteen hours of water a week and was watered the day before it was cut and the day after with no impact on the hay.  It never dried out and has very little recovery time during haying.  The field next too it is watered with gated pipe and it was hayed on the same schedule.  It is still dead and brown while this field is radiant green.


Colorado Drought Monitor Update 6/28/2013

I have been busy with general Irrigation Water Management and helping people with their flow measurement and irrigation.   But I thought I would do a quick update on drought conditions in Delta County.  We have moved back into D2 drought conditions for the entire county.   Hopefully we get some good monsoon moisture in July to help stop the drought progression this summer.