March/April 2022 - 6

cover crops
Restoring soil health is about
more than bulk mixes
over crops are gaining in popularity, not simply
as a trendy ancient practice made new again, but
because - when it's all said and done - it works.
It took some time, convincing, and observing of the
neighbor's cover crop results, but Stephen Maloney, foreman
for Zonneveld Farms, was able to get the go-ahead on the
planting of cover crops a couple years ago. With the help of
Cary Crum, agronomist with California Ag Solutions, the two
were able to turn a block of walnuts in Hanford, California,
into a more balanced and eco-friendly system that required
fewer to no sprays, less water, kept the orchard temperatures
cooler, and invited beneficials. But underneath this all is the
key to what cover crops bring - improved soil health.
" It's called equilibrium, " said Crum. " Nature wants to be
in balance. "
Prescriptive cover crops
This farm in particular is flood irrigated and, like so many
others, had issues with water infiltration just two seasons ago.
The tree stress was visible, as was the water sitting for days in
the field. It was this issue that led Maloney to try a cover crop.
" We noticed a big difference in the water the first year, "
said Maloney. " And now, there's plenty of moisture in the
ground, even though it hasn't rained. It made management
this past season easier because we didn't have to water it
constantly. "
The increased water infiltration had a domino effect
for the orchard, including better nutrient cycling, which
made better use of the fertility plan. The increase in organic
matter increased water holding capacity, which allowed for
better use of the water and more time between irrigation
applications. It was a favorable outcome in the regularly
water-strapped Central Valley of California.
" It's important to look at cover cropping from an agronomic
standpoint, " Crum said. " Before you plant, have a management
plan. What's the problem you're trying to solve? What season
do you want to plant, and where are you located? How are you
going to mow, and when will you terminate the cover crop,
and how are you adjusting your fertility program? "
Part of that planning, however, is the selection of seed
mix. While organizations provide a few bulk mix options
containing a few varieties of seed, Crum recommends a
custom mix containing anywhere from 8-15 seed types for
broader diversity and to target specific purposes.
" We call it prescriptive cover crops, " said Crum. " Everything
is custom blended for a reason, and we see exponential
benefits with over eight species of plants. Let it go as long as it
can into the season, and big benefits start to happen. "
" Last year, we didn't spray this field at all, " said Maloney.
The Hanford field has 15 different types of plants in its mix,
even if not all of them express themselves. Soil conditions
can vary, and some species of the mix do better in different
areas of the same orchard. The added cost of the custom
blend has been worth it, and Zonneveld Farms has doubled
the walnut acreage on which the mix is used.
This is the second year
Stephen Maloney, left,
and Cary Crum, right,
have planted a cover
crop in this orchard.
Photos: Matt Hannon

March/April 2022

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of March/April 2022

March/April 2022 - 1
March/April 2022 - 2
March/April 2022 - 3
March/April 2022 - 4
March/April 2022 - 5
March/April 2022 - 6
March/April 2022 - 7
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