Conservation stinks

In the weeks prior to Christmas, we would load up the kids drive off to wherever we were destined. And, every road trip, just about a mile or so into our journeys, we would smell something awful. At first, we thought some small mammal had crawled into our engine and died.

After a few more trips, in multiple vehicles, we determined that is was not just our car, ruling out the dead-animal-in-the-engine theory. Then it occurred to me that the smell originated in the general area of David Brandt’s farm. He lives just a couple of miles from us and is nationally known for his work with long-term no-till and experimentation with cover crops.

I have heard him talk several times at various meeting about one of his favorite cover crops, the oilseed radish. This cover crop has many benefits, but is best known for its ability to break up compacted soils. It also scavenges nutrients and has vigorous fall growth. The crop dies in the winter and leaves soils mellow and ready to pant in the spring with no need to manage the cover crop.

As an added bonus, Brandt also tells of the cover crop’s ability to thwart any efforts of starting a new housing development in the area because of the unbelievable aroma of the rotting crop in winter fields. A few more olfactory observations over the course of the next few days pretty much confirmed my suspicions – oilseed radishes were to blame for the incredible odor floating up into the cold winter skies of my rural Fairfield County neighborhood.

Apparently, I was not the only one smelling the rotting radishes. The local fire department was swamped with calls with concerned citizens fearing there was some sort of gas leak in the area. Local firemen and Brandt were even interviewed on the evening news to address the smelly situation. Brandt explained that the smelly crop improved his soils and reduced the need to spray herbicides in the spring.

This week I will be going to the National No-Till Conference in Cincinnati, where I will likely get the chance to learn more about the oilseed radish, through with Brandt just around the corner, I could probably learn more right in my backyard. The smell is finally beginning to die down some, though it is persistent. There is no doubt that Brandt is doing great things for his soils, and the environment, but sometimes, conservation stinks.

For more on the oilseed radish, visit

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