FORREST – When Brad Crane first noticed bare spots in his soybean field, he thought something was wrong with the planter.
Apparently, voles are to blame. The small mouse-like creatures are a common problem in the Midwest, often burrowing through the ground feeding on crops along the way. They especially enjoy cereal rye, a cover crop used by many farmers, as a food source and for protection from predators.
“It looks kind of like a mouse with a short tail,” explained James Hoorman, soil health director of NRCS. “They’ll have three to six young and several litters per year. Pretty soon, it becomes a major problem.”
Hoorman spoke to participants on the recent tour of the Vermilion Headwaters Watershed, which made a stop at the Crane farm west of Forrest. According to Hoorman, voles really like corn and soybeans and the critters have plenty of food options when we experience a slow spring. Common predators of voles include owls, hawks, snakes and coyotes.
“To help these predators, keep cover crops lower and put up some fence posts with a t-bar across the top. That gives a place for the birds to land,” adds Hoorman.
Using zinc pellets or performing light tillage operations can also help to solve the pest problem. Also during the tour, Hoorman noted the presence of several earthworms in long-term no-till areas. He considers them beneficial.
“They really bring that organic matter from the surface and deposit it further into the soil. They are also good at spreading beneficial microbes around in the soil.”
Chris Reynolds, natural resource conservationist with American Farmland Trust, says the Vermilion Headwaters is basically an extension of the previous Indian Creek Watershed project, although the new initiative includes both Livingston and Ford counties.
“We are kind of focused on this Forrest area, taking a look at some projects that we promote here in the watershed for good water quality,” said Reynolds.
American Farmland Trust is a lead partner in the Vermilion Headwaters effort, providing technical support for landowners and farmers in the watershed.
More information can be obtained by contacting the Soil and Water Conservation District offices in Livingston or Ford counties. To find out more on Hoorman’s topics, look for NRCS or the Midwest Cover Crops Council online.