March is mud month in Wisconsin. While this season may not be particularly pretty on the eyes, the freeze and thaw of the soil presents farmers with an opportunity to seed small-seeded plants like clovers into a fall-established wheat crop. The benefits are numerous: weed control, diversity, nitrogen for the following corn crop, forage and grazing opportunities. We cover it all with Jefferson County farmer Scott Schultz.
Will Fulwider 0:02
Well hello, Michael. It’s good to have you back.
Michael Geissinger 0:04
Hey Will. How’s it going?
Will Fulwider 0:06
Ah, not too bad. Do you have a joke for us today? We missed it last time.
Michael Geissinger 0:12
I do have a joke. It’s a joke that relates to wheat. Are you ready for it?
Will Fulwider 0:17
I’m so ready.
Michael Geissinger 0:20
What did the wheat farmer with a headache say when all of his crops disappeared?
Will Fulwider 0:25
I have no idea.
Michael Geissinger 0:28
Ah- my grains! Like a migraine and headache.
Will Fulwider 0:34
Migraines! I get it that was actually pretty good.
Michael Geissinger 0:38
That’s what I’m here for so…
Will Fulwider 0:40
Amazing! Welcome to Field Notes. My name is Will Fulwider. And I’m joined by my co host, Michael Geissinger. We are two Regional Crops Educators with UW Madison Extension in Wisconsin. Combining our skills, knowledge and experience to help farmers and agronomists develop research based solutions to issues facing agriculture in Wisconsin.
All right, well, we’re glad to have Michael back on to tell his fantastic jokes that I don’t get initially. But today, we’re not talking about Michael’s jokes. We’re talking about one of my favorite practices, frost seeding red clover into standing winter cereals. We’ve got Scott Schultz on the program today. Scott is a beef cow farmer in Jefferson County; is a member of the Jefferson County Soil Producer-Led Watershed Group. Scott, thanks for coming on today. Can you take a minute to introduce yourself and your farm?
Scott Schultz 1:46
Sure. Hello, my name is Scott Schultz. And like you said I do farm in Jefferson and actually in Dodge County. I have a cow calf operation. I started out as a dairy farmer. So I have a background in dairy, beef, and more recently poultry. So that’s where I’m at. I grow corn, wheat, soybeans, a little bit of rye, oats, and alfalfa and grasses.
Will Fulwider 2:16
Nice. Quite a bit of diversity on that farm. How many acres are you farming?
Scott Schultz 2:21
I own 85 acres with my family, my wife and children. And we rent 160 acres that’s in Dodge County.
Will Fulwider 2:32
Gotcha. Gotcha. And so we’re talking about frost seeding red clover today. We’ve talked in the past about it with you a little bit and you’ve been doing it for 10 years, you know, you’ve tried everything under the sun with how to do it. But I want to get into the original idea is what was your original intent when you started frost seeding red clover.
Scott Schultz 2:53
So I came across this kind of as a fluke, I was doing some custom harvesting for a neighbor. And he called me up and said he had some clover for me to bail. And this was a person that was a cash cropper and I didn’t think had any legumes. And I went over there and saw this beautiful crop of clover, that he then explained to me that he had frost seeded in with his fertilizer in the spring. And I saw the potential of how much feed I could make off of this. And that is how I got started.
Will Fulwider 3:33
Great and backtrack a little bit. Then frost seeding of red clover is; you’re throwing the seed out there, broadcasting kind of, during this March time, more or less when the ground is freezing and thawing and that freezing and thawing action brings the small seeded clover seeds into the ground. And that’s your frost seeding it into his standing wheat fields. So this wheat already planted that past fall and then the weed is starting to grow and the clovers growing kind of underneath it. Is that how you went about it, Scott?
Scott Schultz 4:06
Yes, actually the first two years I had the co-op spread it, they used an airflow machine to put my urea on and they added the clover seed to that. We proceeded to do that for two years. But then I started doing some research and realize that to get the clover out there early enough I was actually putting new urea down too soon. So I bought a three point spreader for my small tractor and started planting that way. The drawback with that was as you frost seed, you really want to be out there just as the frost coming out and eventually you start leaving wheel tracks. So the most recent way I frost seed is with a speeder on the back of my UTV, which is a much lighter machine. And it goes much faster and it’s been working really well.
Michael Geissinger 5:21
That’s great. And then Scott, are you primarily baling this red clover and using that as feed that way or?
Scott Schultz 5:28
Okay, so that’s how I originally started with it, I was bailing a crop off of it in the fall, and then coming back and actually taking a crop off in the spring before I planted corn. But after all the meetings we’ve been to, and all the different things we’ve tried, I have realized, I do want to leave some out there for building up the soil and increasing my nitrogen. So if I do take any off in the fall, I will not take it off again in the spring, I usually get a pretty good regrowth. So I went from completely doing it just for feed to depending on my soil conditions, you know, the fields that need more nitrogen, I will leave it and the ones that I can basically haul manure on later, I will harvest.
Michael Geissinger 6:28
Cool. And you had mentioned a little bit about what you do for kind of your seeding method with the UTV. I was curious too, are there any particular things you’re looking for from a timing standpoint? I know we talked about March. But are you kind of watching when that when the snow layers are kind of off? I know that when we frost seed, we’re kind of looking for those cracks in the soil that the seed can fall into? Is there anything like that, that you’re watching out for to know when the timing is going to be just about right to get out there and do this?
Scott Schultz 7:02
So when I get to end of March, early April, I am watching the weather as far as when do I have a morning when the ground is froze, that I’m not going to leave any imprints with the machine? And I can see that it’s going to be starting to warm up. The idea is to try and get it out there, last frost. Well, every time I do that I get more, it freezes more times after that. It’s almost impossible to predict if we’re going to have another frost or not. But so that’s what I usually aim for the last week in March.
Will Fulwider 7:43
Gotcha. And you’d mentioned earlier about taking it for feed sometimes in the fall. And if you’re trying to rehabilitate the soil or add some or it’s a poor soil, what have you, you’ll leave it in the spring for the following corn crop. Do you see a difference if you leave it in the fall and in the spring as like that gives you the most nitrogen for your falling corn crop, or does it not really matter if you take it in the fall?
Scott Schultz 8:13
Well, like I said, I’ve done both. And I really haven’t seen that much of an increase by leaving the fall crop. And the more research that we’ve been doing, I’m talking to different people. And by leaving it in the fall, you have more of a chance of it going down in the spring. And then it causes that heavy slimey layer because I plant green. So I need everything standing as much as possible when I’m planting into it. And if the clover gets too tall and too heavy, it makes like a mat on the ground. So I’m kind of trying to avoid that.
Will Fulwider 9:01
Gotcha. So almost taking a fall cutting which then you feed to your animals is beneficial for preventing it from kind of suffocating itself more or less and giving you a better seed bed in which to plant into because it’s standing.
Scott Schultz 9:22
Will Fulwider 9:24
And so when you are thinking about management of nitrogen during the corn season, you’re realizing, okay, I have this beautiful crop of red clover that you’re planting green into. Are you adjusting your nitrogen as a result, have you cut back on your nitrogen applications to that corn crop?
Scott Schultz 9:48
Absolutely, the last three years I have cut back the nitrogen on the fields with clover by 40 to even 60 units. And the things I’m trying now, last year, I had some clover that didn’t come in as well. One thing you’re going to find with doing this, if you have a really good wheat crop, the clover doesn’t do as well. So last year, we had a really good wheat crop and clover wasn’t, it didn’t look as good. So what I actually did was I went in with peas and oats, and a little bit of vetch. And I put that in after the wheat came off. And it made a beautiful crop. And I actually just walked the fields about three weeks ago, where I had done that, and the clover is actually coming in now that it’s been laying dormant over the summer that the clover is filling in.
Will Fulwider 10:58
Oh, interesting. So it’s adding these extra crops in the mix almost gave the clover time to recover a little bit and come back in the spring.
Scott Schultz 11:07
That’s what I’m hoping for. Yes, I’ll know more in a couple, in about a month or so.
Will Fulwider 11:11
Right. And so you’re taking away 40 to 60 pounds of nitrogen. Are you seeing similar yields to what you would have if you had put on those units? Are you taking a little bit of a yield hit when you when you cut back?
Scott Schultz 11:26
I haven’t noticed any yield hit yet. What I did find is I had a field last year that the clover didn’t come very well. And well, actually it didn’t come at all. And I didn’t do anything different on that field. And there I took a really yield hit. I mean, you could definitely see it needed more nitrogen.
Will Fulwider 11:48
And speaking of yields, does this practice at all affect your wheat yield? Or harvest stability in that in that same thing?
Scott Schultz 11:57
No, I haven’t really noticed too much. I’ve talked to a couple of different people that say they can still yield 100 bushel to the acre with the clover in there. I don’t push real hard on that. I’m using my wheat more for a year to basically get my cover crops in and prep the ground for the following year. I think last year, my wheat averaged 85 bushel to the acre. So that’s nothing to complain about in my book. So I don’t really see it.
Michael Geissinger 12:39
Yeah. So I know you’re harvesting that wheat then for grain. I’m curious too, have you harvested the straw for that? Or is that become difficult with the clover kind of coming up through? Or is that just not fit into your system?
Scott Schultz 12:54
Okay, so there’s a whole nother scenario, because I have tried different things. So the person that I custom harvested for that first year, they tried to take that straw right down to the ground, and they ran all that clover through their combine. And that custom harvester said if you ever do this, again, I am not coming back. So the practice that I follow is I normally just take the heads and I spread the straw out. And then I come back when the weather’s, you know, like, instead of worrying about trying to get the straw off immediately after you combine, I’ve got a bigger window now because I’ve got the straw spread out. I can wait for a couple of nice days, I come back through with my disc bine and, and re-cut the whole field. And in that situation, I do lose a little bit of straw because you’re grinding it up so much. But you know what? The ground needs organic matter too, so I’m not too worried about that. But what that also does it mixes the clover and the straw together. And when I use the straw for bedding for my beef cattle, they love it, they actually will graze the straw before they lay on it. They they go through and they pick out all the clover. And it works really well.
Michael Geissinger 14:17
That’s awesome. When you kind of get that mat of straw and even just the practice of the red clover in general. I’m curious to know are there any weed control benefits that you have kind of with this practice? Or maybe you have some weed control issues? I’m just curious maybe if you could speak into your experience with weeds and all of this and what that’s been like too.
Scott Schultz 14:42
Okay, so I generally plant 8 to 10 pounds of clover, I’m gonna go back to 10 I cut back to 7 to 8 last year. And I think that’s why that hurt me a little bit on that one field. And if it comes up I would say, 9 out of the 10 years, I’ve had a beautiful mat of clover after I take the wheat off. I don’t use any weed control after I take the straw off if generally I just let it go. And I take another crop of clover, or now with this new practice of adding more cover crops into there, like peas or oats and rape and vetch. Yeah, I don’t use any herbicide after the wheat comes off.
Will Fulwider 15:34
So speaking of using herbicides, are you I mean, obviously, planting a legume, broadleaf legume, into a grass like wheat really restricts your ability to use in season herbicides for wheat. And so I’m wondering, do you have any other in season weed control, then just the red clover growing underneath? And have you had problems with that in the past?
Scott Schultz 15:56
Yeah, in all the years that I’ve done this, I have never sprayed my wheat fields. I’ve had some marginal ground in the past where there was some wetter spots in the field where I would get some giant rag growing. But in the last two to three years, weeds have not been a problem.
Will Fulwider 16:19
So talking about herbicides, you know, on a roll into termination, you mentioned planting green. So how are you terminating that red clover? Is it just a burn down? Or, you know, how does that work for you?
Scott Schultz 16:33
So because I’m planting green, I actually go in and plant and I will come back through with glyphosate and then my residual, within a couple of days after I plant and I’ve never had a problem with glyphosate, killing the clover, I know people have said, oh, you can’t kill clover with glyphosate. Well, I’ve actually tried to keep it alive in between the rows by band spraying with my corn planter, because I was going to see if it was possible for the corn to pull the nitrogen out of the growing clover. And, just the overspray is too much that it takes it out. And I was also informed that it’s a bad idea because you don’t get the nitrogen out of the clover until it actually dies.
Will Fulwider 17:29
Yeah, and it’d be great to be able to have that cover underneath the corn to help also with weed control as the corn is emerging. But like you’re saying, you really don’t get the nitrogen release back into the soil available to the corn crop until that clover is indeed terminated.
Michael Geissinger 17:48
I know we’re talking about the benefits for like the following corn crop after this red clover. I’m curious, Scott, if you’d maybe speak into a little bit. I know it sounds like the red clover does really well. But maybe from just a yield standpoint, what that’s looked like, if you’re seeding like after harvest for wheat compared to interseeding if you’ve ever compared between those two, on your farm?
Scott Schultz 18:12
Oh, yes, definitely. I’m glad you asked me that, because I still feel that you get a lot better. You have a lot better chance of getting a good stand of clover when you plant it in early spring versus if you plant it in August. Clover is just one of those crops that you know, it can get awful dry in August. And it might get off to a rough start. Where if I’m putting it down in the spring, when all the spring rains are coming it usually, it sprouts and it gets going and come August you’ve already got a good start there. And it recovers really fast after that first cutting.
Will Fulwider 18:57
And that way you’re also lessening the amount of stuff that you have to do after your wheat harvest. You know, especially if you’re trying to dry out the straw and everything rather than having to harvest the wheat, come back harvest the straw and then plant you know you’re planting in March when what else are you doing in March, other than sitting on your sofa watching television and whatever, as the ground starting to thaw. So, you know, I feel like it also helps to spread out that labor across the year.
And so are you only cutting it and feeding it or are you grazing it off as well? And then how does feeding it or grazing it play into kind of your larger nutrition for your beef cow calf pairs.
Scott Schultz 19:40
So I also have tried grazing I will do that any place that I’m able to get the cattle to. The first year I was very nervous about putting the cows out on a field of clover. But I’ve found that because you have volunteer wheat, and nobody does a perfect job. And because I spread it out with the combine, you’re not just putting the straw in a row, you’re actually spreading out the wheat seed that comes through the combine. So that adds some different variety, you know, you have a grass and there with your legume, and I have not had a bloat problem, but I do load the cows up pretty heavy on dry hay before I’ll put them out there. And I also think that when they’re eating, they’re actually picking up some of that straw residue that’s left from when we bailed the straw. And so that works out really well. I mean they really love that crop. And, to answer your other question about protein value? I think I’ve only had the clover tested once. Generally, I do make it as high moisture, round bales and wrap it in plastic. And the one year that I had to test it, I think it was like 19% protein.
Will Fulwider 21:11
Scott Schultz 21:12
So I actually do have to tone it down a little bit. I’ll feed grass with it, because it’s actually a little on the rich side.
Will Fulwider 21:19
A little bit too hot.
Scott Schultz 21:22
Will Fulwider 21:23
And so when you’re out grazing those cows, how long do you have pretty much I imagine the grazing of in the fall mostly, rather than the spring? How long can they be out there for how many months or weeks do you have of grazing?
Scott Schultz 21:39
Well, I tend to over graze, I’m going to be the first person to admit that I’m actually looking at starting some rotational grazing even in the next year or so but they’re usually on it for a couple of weeks. And, they’ll just keep eating. I mean, they seem to keep finding more and more out there. But now that I’m adding more different covers after the wheat comes off, there’s different crops out there that’ll last a little bit longer. So they get more of a variety now.
Will Fulwider 22:17
You had mentioned earlier about planting other covers into your red clover fields, is this something that you’re going to continue to do? And what do you see as the benefit of it?
Scott Schultz 22:27
Yes, absolutely. Last year, I tried three different things. I put a 10 way mix on one field that was designed for grazing, and that had more grasses and you know more things that they were able to eat in the fall. And then there was only a few things that are going to overwinter. So by putting the clover down first, I pretty much have my overwinter covered. So I’m more looking at things that will die out in the fall. So I’m looking at the peas, the oats. And while the vetch should overwinter hopefully. And that’s going to be kind of my go to from now on. And I’m going to throw some rape in there too, just for the root system. But that’s with all the different things I’ve tried, that seems to be where I want to be.
Will Fulwider 23:27
And after that you still have a good stand of healthy red clover coming into the spring. And because it’s the only thing that overwinter and even though that you’re planting into it with a bunch of stuff, it’s still able to hang out and hold its own.
Scott Schultz 23:40
That’s correct. Yep.
Will Fulwider 23:41
Michael Geissinger 23:43
Awesome. Well, Scott, I think we might be nearing the end here. So I did want to at least give you the opportunity to answer one last question here. So let’s say if there’s a farmer out there listening to this and is thinking about practicing this? What advice would you give them if they were interested in starting to try this on their farm?
Scott Schultz 24:05
So I guess, start out small, I mean, just try it on one field and see how it works. They should be able to find somebody that can help them with that if they don’t have a seeder. It’s a very inexpensive way to get started. And I guess in my opinion, what would you rather do? Would you rather take a wheat crop off in August and have to hire somebody to come and spray it and kill it and and not gain anything? Or would you rather take your wheat off? Have a beautiful, lush green crop out there and not have to deal with any chemicals and do some good for the ground?
Will Fulwider 24:54
Sounds pretty great to me. Sign me up.
Michael Geissinger 24:57
I’m ordering my red clover right now.
Will Fulwider 25:01
You’ve convinced us both, even though we don’t farm. Well, Scott, thank you so much for taking some time to chat with us today. We really appreciate it.
Scott Schultz 25:14
Well, thank you for having me.
Will Fulwider 25:20
Thanks for listening. This has been Field Notes from UW Madison Extension. My name is Will Fulwider, Regional Crops Educator for Dane and Dodge Counties, and I was joined by my co host Michael Geissinger, Crops Educator for St. Croix, Barron, Polk and Pierce Counties. A big thank you to Joe Ryan for creating our theme music and to Abby Wilkymacky for our logo. If you have any questions about anything you’ve heard today, or about your farming practices in general, reach out to the Extension Agriculture Educators serving your region.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Transcribed by https://otter.ai