In a field just north of Simmesport in Avoyelles Parish, La., Ruben Dauzat is surrounded by radishes, an unusual crop for the area. Dauzat has no intention of eating them or feeding them to livestock. He grew them as a cover crop to help prevent topsoil erosion.
This is the second year in a row Dauzat has grown radishes. Last year, he planted soybeans after the radishes and saw no difference in yield. This year he saw an increase in the size of the radishes.
“They came up beautifully this year. The weather cooperated, and we had a super year for the radishes to grow, so I’m really anxious to see what kind of corn crop we are going to have behind it,” Dauzat said.
Growing cover crops is one technique farmers use to reduce runoff and improve soil health, said LSU AgCenter area agent Donna Morgan.Avoyelles Parish farmer Ruben Dauzat displays a radish plant used as a cover crop year in a field near Simmesport, La., in 2015. Dauzat planted the non-edible radishes on approximately 75 acres that were later planted in soybeans. Photo by Bruce Schultz, LSU AgCenter. (Click to enlarge)
“I think farmers are really starting to understand the benefits of putting a cover out there. They can burn it down and plant in the spring, and sometimes they can get some of the nitrogen back they normally wouldn’t get,” Morgan said.
Dauzat got the idea for radishes from touring farms in the Midwest. Both he and Morgan believe that radishes can be beneficial in soils that compact more easily.
“It helps break the hardpan, if you have that type of soil where you have that problem. It allows the water to percolate down and allows the crops that you plant to be able to get access to that water,” Morgan said.
“Once we get our rainfall, then that water will penetrate down into that cavity where the tuber was and help with water retention,” Dauzat said.
Dauzat said that water retention is important to him because none of his cropland is irrigated.
Morgan and some of her colleagues have test plots at the AgCenter Dean Lee Research Station near Alexandria, La., where they are examining radishes and other cover crops such as crimson clover, cereal rye and winter wheat.
The researchers are examining several areas, Morgan said. One focus is on which cover crop provides the most benefit to a specific production crop such as corn, cotton or soybeans.
Another area of study includes deriving recommendations to best terminate the cover crop to provide the most benefit to farmers and not hamper future row crop plantings, she said.
“If you can get some type of nutrient benefit from these cover crops, and you can terminate them in a timely manner, you can really get some benefit from them in the spring and summer,” she said.
Radishes are not the only cover crop Dauzat uses. He planted winter wheat in fields that he plans to plant cotton in later this spring. He sees value in using cover crops in his operation.
“If you don’t hold the soil it’s going to go into the tributaries, and you are going to lose your topsoil, and eventually you won’t have anything,” Dauzat said.