Spring Food Plots: Cover Crop Benefits With The Buffalo System (Episode 492 Transcript)

This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.

GRANT: Turkey season is in full swing throughout most of the country.

UNKNOWN: Gosh. That’s a big ole boy.

GRANT: Here in the Ozark Mountains, it’s been a tough turkey season.

GRANT: The toms tend to get very quiet once they hit the ground and are not responsive to calls.

GRANT: Based on comments on our Instagram and Facebook pages, other folks in different states are experiencing the same thing.

DANIEL: It is dead silent out here this morning. Tyler and I are running this ridge trying to get a turkey to open up, but we have not heard a single gobble. I hope everyone out there that’s out hunting in the woods this morning hears a lot more turkeys than we’re hearing.

GRANT: I believe I know the reason for what we are experiencing and it’s due to a very low nest success during the past two springs.

GRANT: Here at The Proving Grounds each spring, right during nesting season, we had very heavy rains.

GRANT: Nest and poult survival was very low so there’s not many two and three-year-old toms across the place.

GRANT: Mature birds, they tend to stay in a tree and gobble until the hens come to them or see a hen, get down, and be quiet. They don’t need to gobble much more once they’re on the ground.

GRANT: Hopefully, as the season progresses and a majority of the hens have been bred and start nesting, those toms will be out searching for hens and much more responsive to the call.

GRANT: It’s also time to plant warm season food plots.

GRANT: During planting season when the seed just gets put in the ground and starts to sprout, having adequate soil moisture is critical.

GRANT: I’ve shared in the past that healthy soil can hold more water, but I wanted to prove that for myself here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: Based on some of our past heavy rains, I asked one of the GrowingDeer spring interns to find a test that we could use to replicate what would happen if we had a two-inch rain. Ricky searched the internet, did a bunch of reading, and found a test that was simple to apply that fit what I wanted to learn exactly.

GRANT: Ricky Grimes has been one of our interns this spring and he goes to Northern Iowa University. He’s a senior, so he’ll be graduating. And he needed some projects, along with learning our field opportunities here — what we do in the field. So, I’ve given him various projects.

GRANT: But, as his last project, we wanted to share with y’all — and it’s really interesting from a food plotter’s perspective. So, Ricky, I challenged you with figuring out how to do a rain infiltration test. Basically, how much water could go in the soil or how long it would take if we got a big two-inch rain.

GRANT: Tell us just a little bit about, you know, you went online and other people have done this. You kind of modified techniques for our rocky soil. Tell us what you did.

RICKY: I did some research online, and I realized that I needed to find something that holds water, and a stopwatch to measure how long it took to soak in.

GRANT: So, we just cut off the end of a coffee can. It’s really rocky here, so a plastic bottle wouldn’t do too good going in our soil. Ricky figured that out in some earlier trials. So, take a coffee can, work it down in the ground. That way you won’t have the water going out the edge. Is that right, Ricky?


GRANT: Get that water in there about yay deep. We’re gonna put two inches. Ricky’s done the math, so we know how much water to pour in to equal two inches for this size. Start the stopwatch and see how long it would take for a two-inch rain to sink into the soil.

GRANT: All right, Ricky, man. You’ve done a lot of research, taught me a few things. You’ve done the hard work. You’ve actually done some trials off-camera. Figured out what worked and what didn’t work. So, I’m gonna back out of here. Let’s see what you can do.

GRANT: You think about a really hard rain and I don’t know. We’re just a few minutes into it. But, I’m watching the rings on the coffee can and it’s not going down very quick. So, if it comes at a sure enough gully washer, instead of going in and saving it for crops later on, it’s — there’s a little bit of slope to this field. It’s running away and carrying soil and nutrients with it.

GRANT: Not storing much right now. It’s just sitting on top. Called ponding.

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GRANT: 56 minutes. We’re now doing an infiltration test on an area that’s had the Buffalo System for several years. Should be a little bit better soil.

GRANT: We’re not talking a lot about it. We’re hustling because we may really test infiltration here in a little bit. The sky’s getting dark and there’s a 90% chance of thunderstorms tonight. So, we’re gonna get this done before the soil has moisture in it and we’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

RICKY: One, two, three.

GRANT: All right. Here we go. Is that just me or are you all seeing it? Oh yeah. That’s going down.

RICKY: Hmm. Hmm.

GRANT: Holy mackerel. We’re not even a minute into it.

GRANT: I’m gonna call it for you — you all tell me when to call it.

RICKY: Yeah. I’d say.



GRANT: 2:39. A two-inch rain. You’ve got dark clouds out here right now. Supposed to be thunderstorms tonight. A two-inch rain just went in the soil where we’ve been using the Buffalo System for a longer period of time. Two inches of water in two and a half minutes.

GRANT: That’s – you don’t ever get rains at two and a half inches of water in two and a half minutes. We’re putting water in, no erosion, saving that for a dry period.

GRANT: It’s infiltrating in and you can tell this crop planted almost the same time as the other place grew a whole lot more. No fertilizer and no lime at either one. But, so this was incredible.

GRANT: And in this area I’ve just followed the simple principles of soil health. Disturbance – minimal as possible. We no-till drill. No discing. No nothing like that.

GRANT: Have a living root in the soil as many days out of the year as possible. We plant green; we drill through the standing crop with our next crop. We don’t terminate it. We haven’t added any synthetic fertilizer. That can kind of end up turning the ground a little bit like concrete.

GRANT: Just the principle of soil health – always a mulch cover, always something protecting it so the sun can’t get to it. Nice work, Ricky.

GRANT: You did good on your grade and I feel really good about the soil. Nice work. Congratulations.

RICKY: Thank you.

GRANT: A bit over two minutes versus almost an hour. More than 20 times faster, more than 20 times faster the water soaked into the soil. No wonder there’s never any sign of erosion in the plots that have had the Buffalo System for a few years.

GRANT: We saw these same results last year, but for a different reason and only above the ground. We had some Hot Zone fences up protecting some forage soybeans. And there in the later part of the growing season, it got dusty dry.

GRANT: But the beans in the fence where the deer weren’t browsing, gosh, they were chest tall on me. They didn’t even know a drought was occurring.

GRANT: We started planting some Eagle Seed Forage Soybeans April 10th. That may sound a bit early for planting soybeans at this latitude, but I was comfortable with the soil temperatures.

GRANT: We’re planting a spring food plot today. We’re planting forage soybeans. And you may say, “Well, gosh. You need to get rid of those weeds first.” But, that’s not our program.

GRANT: We’re doing what’s called “planting green.” Planting green means you’re using a no-till drill. We’re using a Genesis to plant directly into the past standing crop.

GRANT: This was a food plot crop. It was Eagle Seeds Fall Buffalo Blend. It’s also what’s called a cover crop. It kept the soil covered, protected and productive all winter long.

GRANT: Deciding when to plant is an important part of having a successful crop.

GRANT: When planting green there are a couple of factors.

GRANT: I want to plant two or three weeks before the existing crop – the cover crop – matures. You can see the brassicas making flowers and the rye is just starting to make seedheads. So, in about two weeks, this will mature.

GRANT: In that two weeks our soybeans will germinate. We’ll drive right back over it with the Goliath crimper — what I call a steel buffalo — and that will terminate this without any herbicide and the new beans come up through it.

GRANT: I want to make sure the soil temperature is warm enough. I can get away with more when planting green; when I’m not using as much synthetic fertilizer or herbicides or other products, I’ll have a lot of soil life — earthworms and bacteria. And they’re activity and respiration warms up the soil.

GRANT: So, using this technique, especially after a year or two, and the soils are healing or getting better, we can plant earlier. Our temperatures will literally be a little bit warmer.

GRANT: And with this constant mulch, it doesn’t get as hot during the day or as cold at night. It’s a more stable environment which is perfect for rapid seed growth.

GRANT: Having adequate soil moisture is a big factor on deciding when to plant. I’ve got this tall cover crop or mulch on the ground. The wind is having almost no impact on the soil’s moisture.

GRANT: And because it’s covered, protected from the sun’s energy, it’s not evaporating out.

GRANT: In fact, studies have shown that you can reduce soil moisture evaporation by almost 80 or 90 percent by using this technique. That means I can get away with less rain and still have a productive crop.

GRANT: Part of Eagle Seeds Fall Buffalo Blend is having some annual clovers. Annual clovers are, of course, legumes. They’re pumping nitrogen into the soil right now, which is great for the follow-up crops.

GRANT: I used to take some of my better plots and try to maintain them as a pure stand of clover. They look pretty in the spring when it’s moist and the temperatures are cool, but throughout the year, it takes a lot of resources to keep ‘em growing and to keep the weeds from out-competing the clover.

GRANT: Rather than have a few clover plots, when I use this blend, I’ve got great food throughout my property during the early fall, mid-season, late season, late winter. And now coming into spring, pumping clover out which deer and turkey love.

GRANT: If I’ve got a little small plot, then a monoculture of clover might be ideal for that little plot given I don’t have a lot of other options.

GRANT: By using this Buffalo System and drilling into the standing crop with different plants at different times of the year, I’ve got clover almost everywhere when it’s strongest during the spring season.

GRANT: And in the summer when clover is not doing too well, I’ve got beans which is the perfect summer crop for deer.

GRANT: “Proof is always in the pudding”, so they say. Or in this case – in the videos and pictures. During the last couple of weeks we’ve got a lot of images of deer head down feeding on the clover.

GRANT: Another measurement of this system — we’ve got some bucks showing good antler growth already this spring. If we’d have tilled our plots and had bare dirt, there wouldn’t be many groceries for the bucks right now.

GRANT: I shared recently, while looking at the results of our prescribed fire, how efficient plants are at capturing and using the sun’s energy. Plant leaves are taking the sun’s energy and pumping carbon and other good stuff into the soil through a process called photosynthesis.

GRANT: In addition to carbon, it’s pumping glucose, a very simple sugar into the soil. And very beneficial bacteria, single-celled and multi-celled organisms are in the soil and they trade that glucose — they need that energy- for good stuff for the plants, including mineral elements they’ve taken and converted from a chemical form to a soluble form that plants can use — fertilizer.

GRANT: So by using the sun’s energy and not disrupting the soil, not discing or using a lot of synthetic inputs, those organisms are benefiting the plant by feeding them and actually protecting them, making them healthier and able to resist pests and diseases.

GRANT: Soil health can be extremely complicated. But we can break it down really simply. We need to always keep the soil covered. Bare soil, naked soil, can be eroded. It can get too hot or too cold and it doesn’t hold soil moisture.

GRANT: I like a living root in the soil as many days as possible. And that living root, again, is using the top of the plant – photosynthesis – to pump very valuable foods and other items into the soil for the soil biology. And in turn, the soil biology is making the plant healthier.

GRANT: I want, at least during a portion of the year, a large variety of plants having different root sizes and depths and, really important, different leaf sizes and different leaf heights. I want to capture all that sun before it hits the ground.

GRANT: That diversity of plants also has different root structures. Some of ‘em will be very deep and strong which will break up hard pans and allow moisture to move up and down through the soil as needed.

GRANT: Following some simple principles in your food plot can mean you’ll have way healthier soil, healthier plants, larger deer and attract more deer in front of your stand.

GRANT: It all starts with the simple soil health principles. Now, can you do this with synthetic inputs? Yes, of course you can. But, there’s a cost to that.

GRANT: Tillage always means erosion; synthetic inputs usually end up in somebody’s water system somewhere. Following the natural system, I call the Buffalo System, is the healthiest and, in the long run, the least expensive process.

GRANT: One thing I like to do at the start of planting season, right when I get it out and start calibrating, is put one bag in, take a Sharpie and mark that level. I actually do it on each side of our 8’ drill.

GRANT: Then I put another bag in; mark the level – all the way up until I fill up the drill. That lets me know about how much seed I’m using bag by bag as I go and I can compare the acres. Just another way to check the calibration.

GRANT: When planting soybeans, I always add inoculant. Inoculants are real fine powder that’s actually a beneficial bacteria. It stays with the plant and helps it through a beneficial relationship – between the bacteria and the plant – take nitrogen out of the air, bring it into the plant and later put it in soil.

GRANT: When applying inoculant, don’t put several acres of seed in the drill and then put a little inoculant on top and try to stir it up. You won’t get good coverage.

GRANT: We put the appropriate amount of inoculant in each time we add a bag of seed. That way, it’s much easier to stir it and make sure we get good coverage.

GRANT: Once we’ve finished inoculating the seed, we’re ready to plant.

GRANT: A big advantage of not disturbing the soil is much less weed competition. Almost everywhere are weed seeds in the soil. And when you till the soil, some of ‘em come to the surface and they will germinate after decades of laying there.

GRANT: Because we don’t till the soil, and our soil is always covered with living vegetation and the mulch from the previous crop, weed pressure is minimal.

GRANT: I will share with you that in our small plots where there’s lots of browse pressure, sun gets to the soil, well, we don’t grow enough mulch to cover the ground and we can still have some weed pressure.

GRANT: By drilling into the standing crop and then terminating that crop with the Goliath crimper, after our seeds have germinated, weeds simply don’t have a chance to get started.

GRANT: I’m out checking some of our food plots today we planted April 10th — about the earliest I’ve ever planted at The Proving Grounds. And then right after we planted, we had three nights under 40 degrees and some cold rain.

GRANT: So, I had a lot of faith in the Buffalo System, but I was a bit anxious. Coming out here today and I’ve got soybeans a half inch to an inch tall coming out of the ground.

GRANT: I am thrilled with these results. One of the benefits of improving soil health through the Buffalo System is you develop a lot of very beneficial critters in the soil.

GRANT: The seeds survived fine. We’re off to a great start which means the daytime temperatures aren’t as warm, so we’re not losing soil moisture due to evaporation.

GRANT: Because we planted in our standing crop, deer don’t necessarily like putting their head down in here and those young, tender beans – well, they can get off to a great start without being browsed.

GRANT: Getting my beans up early and protecting them from browse, well, that’s a win in any food plotter’s book.

GRANT: I’m confident if we had used conventional techniques including discing the soil and leaving it bare, the beans wouldn’t be doing quite as well right now after that cold front and I would have certainly lost some soil due to erosion.

GRANT: Daniel was driving by the Missouri River recently and took some pictures where flood waters had backed into some ag fields.

GRANT: Water is probably not going to infiltrate into the soil enough to stop a massive flood. But imagine, if all the soil upstream was managed like the Buffalo System, how much more water would have infiltrated versus coming downstream and damage property and maybe take lives further down.

GRANT: I’m sure you’ve driven by ag fields that had a little low spot and water standing there like a pond. Well, that’s because water is not infiltrating into the soil.

GRANT: Healthy soil has a lot of pores in the soil. Those pores are created by past plant roots, earthworms and what have you. But when you till or disc that soil, you collapse all those pores and you get a stack of dirt.

GRANT: Creating healthy soil structure is one of the many benefits of the Buffalo System. It’s not just a structure — it’s the ability to retain water when it rains and save it in those pores for the droughts that will come.

GRANT: I learned about the Buffalo System from other researchers and practicing farmers and what I’ve observed in healthy, natural habitats that haven’t been disturbed for quite some time.

GRANT: I’ve tweaked what I’ve learned from the big ag guys to make it applicable to us food plot guys so we can have the benefits of having healthy soil even on our little Proving Grounds.

GRANT: Turkey season is still open here in Missouri and we’re still planting food plots. If you’d like to learn more about our techniques or appreciate the information we’ve shared, please subscribe to the GrowingDeer newsletter.

GRANT: Taking some time to get outside and study what works and what doesn’t work — that’s a great way to enjoy Creation. But most importantly, take time every day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.