What’s That Smell?

Using a penetrometer to test soil compaction in a field with tillage radishes.

By Clint Schroeder OSU Extension

It’s becoming a common occurrence across the state. Small towns and rural areas plagued by a mysterious smell during the winter months. Natural gas? Raw sewage? Dead Animals? Nope, just radishes.

The radishes are planted as a cover crop by farmers in an effort to eliminate soil compaction and hold nutrients on their farm fields. Unlike the radishes you might see at the supermarket, these tillage radishes are white, and in the tuber stage they can grow up to 2 feet deep and 6 inches wide. Farmers are growing these root crops to replace tillage passes in the hopes of building organic matter in the soil and reducing erosion. When everything goes to plan the radishes winter kill after a stretch of temperatures around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. They then start to break down slowly. When temperatures rise to the upper 40’s and low 50’s the process is sped up and the decomposing crop can release a rather rancid odor.  The smell is often times reported to fire departments and utility companies as a gas leak. The only real way to stop the smell is a return to colder temperatures. As more farmers adopt cover cropping into their operation there will be a learning curve as to best management practices. Planting a mixture of covers such as oats and vetch along with radishes might be a way to help reduce the odor in future years.

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