Top 10 Webinars #2: Managing Cover Crops

March 2011 Screenshot

This blog’s exploration of the Top 10 Most-Watched Webinars continues with “Managing Cover Crops,” hosted by Dr. Jeremy Singer, then a research agronomist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service and currently a principal scientist for BASF Plant Science in Durham. And here are my Top 3 Take-Home Points:

1. Cover crops can reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, stabilize or increase organic matter, and provide other benefits. (That’s pretty much a direct quote from the webinar, but I couldn’t have put it better.)

2. Managing cover crops is all about balancing potential benefits and risks, and farmers can tinker with plenty of variables—different crop varieties, different methods, different approaches—to fine-tune that balance.

3. More research is needed, and a lot of it is underway right now, to clear up remaining mysteries and ambiguities about cover crop management. However, the concept is now well-established, the benefits are clear, and the practice is getting more and more common.

So, if it weren’t for the awful pun, I’d say the whole idea of planting cover crops … has taken root.

Watch the full webinar here.

- Alex Kirstukas

Iowa Organic Conference Nov. 16-17


Abbe Hills Farm, Mt. Vernon, uses organic practices to grow the many vegetables for its CSA.

The 14th annual Iowa Organic Conference will be Nov. 16-17 on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. Excerpts from the news release announcing the conference (below) includes links for more information and to register.

The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will be held Nov. 16-17 on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City, as a joint effort between Iowa State University and the UI Office of Sustainability. Producers and experts from across the country will share tips for transitioning into organic production and methods to enhance organic operations.

The conference keynote speaker is Mary Berry, daughter of Wendell Berry, novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer:

A reception, featuring local and organic food and drinks will kick off the conference on Sunday, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. in the UI Memorial Union, followed by the movie, “Fresh” at 7 p.m., which explores the growing influence of local and organic markets in the U.S.

Sessions for those interested in learning about the latest techniques for transitioning into organic farming, or improving organic operation, will include lessons on weed management, nutrient management, pest management and livestock integration. The conference also includes information on how to begin farming, soil and water quality initiatives and government programs, crop insurance, compliance with food safety regulations, alternative energy projects, and markets for organic grain, vegetable and fruit crops.

“The Iowa Organic Conference is the largest University-sponsored organic conference in the country,”said Kathleen Delate, ISU organic agriculture specialist,

The cost of the conference is $95 on or before Nov. 7 and $115 after Nov. 7. Conference information is available online at with the link to registration at

For additional conference information and directions to the conference, visit the webpage or contact Delate at
Conference partners include Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, New Pioneer Co-op, Organic Valley, Iowa Dept. of Ag. and Land Stewardship, and Practical Farmers of Iowa.

-Carol Brown

Learn about weeds and cover crops from October ILF webinar

The October ILF webinar contained some great information about weed management when using cover crops. Bob Hartzler, ISU Extension weed specialist, presented findings from a study done by graduate student Meaghan Anderson.

They researched the amount of rye cover crop biomass needed to suppress weeds in corn and soybean fields. They also explored the influence of several herbicide brands on different species of cover crops after corn and soybeans. The findings are worth noting:

Planting more rye to create more biomass did not correlate with the amount of lambsquarters (LQ) or waterhemp (WH) weed suppression.


The cover crop most sensitive to residual herbicide was radish, especially after corn, and the least sensitive was cereal rye.


Watch the archive recording of the webinar to get details and to hear Hartzler’s factors to consider when adding a cover crop to your corn-soybean rotation.

-Carol Brown

The ILF Team Goes to the Science Fair

Science Fair

The good people here at Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! keep busy schedules. Any given week, there are field days to host, webinars to produce, videos to film, songs to compose, schoolchildren to teach, research trips to be carried out, stacks of paperwork to complete, and plenty of odd jobs on the side. This last week, though, the ILF/WR! team members were faced with a challenge unlike any they had encountered before.

They had to become seventh-graders.

The challenge stems from a Water Rocks! video currently in the works. It’s a public service announcement about watersheds, and it’s set at a middle-school science fair, with dioramas and other projects on display. So filmmaker Andrew Bentler — director of this new video as well as of WR!’s successful “What’s In Your Water?” series — enlisted some of the ILF/WR! team to channel their inner seventh-graders and make the projects themselves.

(And yes, in case you were wondering: I was exempted from the whole challenge, probably by virtue of being a new-on-the-job program assistant rather than a team member of long standing. That’s why I’m the one writing this.)

When I spoke to project evaluator and educator Nathan Stevenson about the challenge on Thursday, he was completing a presentation about the solar system, with painted foam models of the planets mounted on corrugated display board and annotated in classic science fair fashion.

“I’m going to include a writeup about each of the planets, and about how Pluto gets no respect,” Stevenson explained. “People just don’t understand Pluto.”

Science Fair Biome

Events coordinator Liz Juchems contributed a diorama of an Iowa wetland biome, complete with mosses (filling in for wetland plant life, naturally) and model animals, including a snake, an owl, and multiple otters and deer.

“My favorite part of constructing my science fair project was remembering all the school and 4-H projects I had constructed over the years,” Juchems commented. “[The diorama] brought me back to middle school and the fun I had with my friends creating projects for school and 4-H.”

Assistant program manager and lab manager Ann Staudt contributed two projects, including the pivotal “We All Live in a Watershed” display on which the video focuses.

“Over the past two years, I’ve been a judge at several science fairs,” Staudt noted, “so I was able to base [the displays] on some outstanding middle-school science projects I’ve seen. Just saying.”

When the projects were set up for filming, director Bentler expressed satisfaction on how the challenge had turned out.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could be 7th graders for a living?” he said.


The film shoot took place on Friday, and the video’s now in post-production. Look for it among the  Water Rocks! videos in the upcoming months.

And be sure to notice all the great pseudo-seventh-grade-science-projects in the background.

- Alex Kirstukas

Top 10 Webinars #1: A Culture of Conservation

Conservation Screenshot

Each month, Iowa Learning Farms hosts a live webinar on a topic related to farming and conservation. There have been more than forty webinars so far, and they’re all archived on the ILF website. (They’re also available in podcast form for easy downloading).

On this blog, I’ll be taking a look at the Top 10 Most-Watched Webinars … and bringing back my Top 3 Take-Home Points about each one. These aren’t supposed to be the Big Three Most Important Ideas from each webinar by any means; they’re just the things I found most interesting, jotted down here as a quick preview of what you might get from each one.

First up is “A Culture of Conservation,” hosted by Dr. Jacqueline Comito, director of Iowa Learning Farms at Iowa State University. And here’s my preview:

1. Language shapes the way we think about the environment.

2. Images are a kind of language too … and socially accepted images of farming aren’t necessarily the most useful ones to have around.

3. Uncertainty leads to inaction. It’s time to stop sending out ambiguous messages and start changing practices for the better.

Watch the full webinar here.

- Alex Kirstukas

STRIPS: The Movie

ALM 147

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture recently posted on their website the new video “Restoring the Balance: Prairie Conservation Strips.” The 12-minute film includes interviews with members of the STRIPS team (Science-based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairies), farmers who have incorporated strips of prairie plantings in their fields, and conservation experts offering their opinions of this conservation farming practice.

The STRIPS research project is at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, near Prairie City, Iowa. The project looks at three scenarios of prairie integrated in corn-soybean rotations, and one area with no prairie plants serving as the control site. The research team is finding many benefits to using this system including reduced soil erosion, reduced nitrogen and phosphorus leaving the land, and an increase in biodiversity. To learn more about the research visit the STRIPS website.

Watch the video here and learn more about this concept and its benefits.

-Carol Brown

Friday Photos: Cover Crops Thriving!

ILF staff visited the Armstrong Research and Demonstration Farm in Southwest Iowa earlier today, and we were pleased to find some good growth in our recently-seeded cover crop plots.   As part of a National Conservation Innovation Grant looking at cover crop mixtures, these plots involve an investigation of three different cover crop treatments:

Treatment #1: Single Species Cover Crop (rye pictured here in corn plots)

Treatment #1: Single Species Cover Crop (Rye in corn plots, 9/26/2014)

Treatment #2: Cover Crop Mixture (Blend of rye, radish, and rapeseed shown here in corn plots)

Treatment #2: Cover Crop Mixture (Blend of rye, radish, and rapeseed in corn plots, 9/26/2014)

Treatment #3: No Cover Crop (in some very nice looking no-till!)

Treatment #3: No Cover Crop (in some very nice looking no-till, 9/26/2014)


The crops are looking great in SW Iowa, as are the cover crops.  However, when walking through the plots, beware of badger holes!


One very ambitious badger makes its home in our corn plots at the Armstrong (SW) Research and Demonstration Farm.

The cover crop species in our plots are different based on whether they are planted into standing corn or soybeans.  The above images all come from standing corn.   Here’s a view from the soybean plots, as well:

Cover Crop Mixture used in Soybeans (Blend of oats, radish, and hairy vetch)

Cover Crop Mixture used in Soybeans (Blend of oats, radish, and hairy vetch, 9/26/2014)

How are your cover crops looking this fall?  We’d love to see any photographs you may have, and will share them in future blog posts. Send them to us at

-Ann Staudt

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