ILF cover crop workshop in Newton March 5

Rye_in_soybean_SE_ISU_research_farmThe first of Iowa Learning Farms’ spring (yes, spring!) cover crop workshops is tomorrow, March 5, in Newton at the DMACC campus.  This is the first of three ILF cover crop upcoming workshops/field days.

Tomorrow evening’s workshop will begin at 6:00 pm with a complimentary meal, followed by the program. Prairie City farmer Gordon Wassenaar will talk about his experience using cereal rye cover crop on 1,200 acres of his farm. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach water quality engineer Matt Helmers will present information on the benefits of cover crops to reduce soil erosion, reduce nutrients leaving the field and entering waterways, and how using cover crops fit with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The free workshop will be in Room 251 on the DMACC Newton campus, 600 North 2nd Ave. The RSVP deadline was a few days ago but you can still attend to hear the presenters and network with fellow farmers.

The other workshops are set for March 25 at Steve Berger’s farm in Wellman; and April 2 at Matt and Stephanie Essick farm in Dickens.

Hope to see you at one of these informative events!

-Carol Brown


New podcast series launched

Conservation_chat_screenThe new podcast series “Conservation Chat” launched this month. This podcast does just what the title says: host Jacqueline Comito chats with Iowans about conservation.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is the inaugural podcast guest. Other installments available include Mills County farmer Steve McGrew and Wright County farmer Tim Smith.

“We want to introduce listeners to the diversity and depth of the folks who are doing their part to improve the land. A conversation is the best format to do more than skim the surface of a person’s motivations and attitudes,” said Comito.

The interviews are casual, engaging and at times humorous. As an anthropologist, Comito comes to this format naturally. “Hanging out and talking with people is at the heart of the anthropological approach. I love to discover what makes individuals unique and to hear their stories.”

Expect to hear chats periodically throughout the year with farmer partners and others who work daily to improve soil health and water bodies.

“Conservation Chat” podcasts are available through iTunes, the ILF website, and at You can subscribe to “Conservation Chat” through iTunes and get new episodes automatically downloaded to your computer or devices.

-Carol Brown

Several ILF Partners spotlighted



A few of our farmer partners were recognized recently for conservation work on their farms.

Last week the Iowa Cover Crop Conference was in Des Moines with over 300 people in attendance. ILF farmer partner Steve Berger was one of presenters during the general session.



Also several ILF farmer partners presented at breakout sessions including Berger, Wade Dooley, Rick Juchems and Tim Smith. Juchems was interviewed for the Agribusiness Report on WHO-TV about his use of cover crops. Watch the interview here.




The 2015 National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic was held in Des Moines this past weekend with over 22,000 people attending. At the conference, Buchanan County farmer Richard Sloan was one of seven people honored as “Conservation Faces of Iowa.”

Sloan web close up


From Wallaces Farmer website article:

“Nestled among the rolling hills of east-central Iowa, a 700-acre farm run by Richard Sloan demonstrates balance between agriculture and conservation. Located in Buchanan County, Sloan uses a host of different conservation programs including cover crops and buffer strips as a valuable addition to production agriculture. Working in tandem with Chris Hiher, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill biologist, Sloan has identified conservation best management practices for the health of his soil and longevity of his farm.”

-Carol Brown

February ILF webinar explores cover crops as forage


Joe Sellers was the guest speaker for the February ILF webinar held this week. The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach beef specialist spoke about using cover crops with livestock. He offered many excellent points to consider for cattle or sheep.

He starts with a very important point: consider your goals for the field. Are you using cover crops in the field for nitrogen, soil nutrition, harvesting them for feed, or are you using the field for forage? Sellers offers tips for these as well as using a cover crop as a smother crop prior to seeding the field for a new forage stand. He also reminds us of details to not overlook, such as finding out the herbicide restrictions on forage crops, and the nutrition value that different cover crops can provide for your livestock.

You can watch the February webinar, archived on the ILF website. All of the 48 previous ILF webinars are on the website, too.

-Carol Brown

No Harm to Soils When Cattle Graze Cover Crops

Good news!  A new report, released by the Agriculture Resource Service following a 7-year study, has found that allowing cattle to graze cover crops does not cause compaction or significantly affect the amount of organic matter in the soil.  The full report is available below:


Grazing Cover Crops

For years, some growers in the Southeast have used cover crops to reduce soil erosion, boost organic matter, and keep more moisture in soil. Combined with no-till production, cover crops are credited with sequestering more carbon in soil so that less of it is released as a greenhouse gas.

But more growers could be using cover crops.

Alan Franzluebbers, an ecologist in the Agricultural Research Service’sPlant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, North Carolina, wanted to see if the use of cover crops could be encouraged by allowing cattle to graze cover crops.

Conventional wisdom holds that grazing would remove the nitrogen and carbon otherwise left on the soil in the cover crop plant residue. Allowing cattle to tread on the soil could also compact it, preventing air and water from passing through the soil to reach plant roots. But if grazing wouldn’t harm the soil, it might encourage more growers to try using cover crops.

Franzluebbers and his colleagues conducted a 7-year study to assess whether grazing cover crops at a site near Watkinsville, Georgia, affects the health of soils typical of the Piedmont region of the Southeast. They looked at growing winter and summer grains, with cover crops planted in the off-season for each grain crop. They compared no-till versus tilling, and grazing versus no grazing. Cow/calf pairs were allowed to graze at a rate of one animal per 4 acres. The scientists took periodic samples of the soil to a depth of 1 foot.

The results showed that the relatively low rate of grazing did not significantly affect the amount of organic matter in soil and did not cause soil compaction. Additional studies should be conducted to determine a stocking threshold that increases compaction, Franzluebbers says. The findings also showed that cover crops make for high-quality forage. Organic matter lost by allowing cattle to graze on cover crops is likely made up in the organic input from manure. As in previous studies, the team found that using no-till generally keeps more carbon and nitrogen in soil than using conventional tillage.

The study was the first in the region to analyze these practices for such an extensive period, and that makes it important, Franzluebbers says. “Soil conditions can fluctuate year to year, and when it comes to something as lasting and significant as the health of the soil, it’s important for us to have a comprehensive picture of the effects of these practices over an extended period,” he says.

By Dennis O’Brien, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff. This research is part of ARS National Program #212, Climate Change, Soils, and Emissions. No Harm to Soils When Cattle Graze Cover Crops” was published in the February 2015 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


Liz Juchems

What is the Purpose of Society–The New York Times opinion piece

I want to share an opinion piece I read this morning. Mark Bittman makes some provocative and thoughtful arguments. Food for thought!

You can read the complete article “What is the Purpose of Society?” from the New York Times. The article was summarized by Meridian Institute:

DSCN8856In this opinion piece, Mark Bittman writes, “The world of food and agriculture symbolizes most of what’s gone wrong in the United States. But because food is plentiful for most people, and the damage that conventional agriculture does isn’t readily evident to everyone, it’s important that we look deeper, beyond food, to the structure that underlies most decisions: the political economy.”

Progressives, he adds, are not thinking broadly or creatively enough. The business of America, he says, should not be about business, but well-being. There are two kinds of operating systems, says Bittman, hard and soft. A hard system is something like a clock – we know what it is for, know when it isn’t working, and we know how to fix it. But soft systems, he writes, are more complex: “We don’t all agree on goals, and we don’t agree on whether things are working or in need of repair. For example, is contemporary American agriculture a system for nourishing people and providing a livelihood for farmers? Or is it one for denuding the nation’s topsoil while poisoning land, water, workers and consumers and enriching corporations? Our collective actions would indicate that our principles favor the latter; that has to change.”

The most powerful way to change a complex, soft system is to change its purpose, writes Bittman. “For example, if we had a national agreement that food is not just a commodity, a way to make money, but instead a way to nourish people and the planet and a means to safeguard our future, we could begin to reconfigure the system for that purpose. More generally, if we agreed that human well-being was a priority, creating more jobs would not ring so hollow,” says Bittman, concluding, “Sadly, even if we did agree, complex systems are not subject to clever fixes. Rather, changes often have unexpected results…so change necessarily remains incremental. But without an agreement on goals, without statements of purpose, we are going to continue to see changes that are not in the interest of the majority. Increasingly, it’s corporations and not governments that are determining how the world works. As unrepresentative as government might seem right now, there is at least a chance of improving it, whereas corporations will always act in their own interests.”

-Jacqueline Comito

Share Your Thoughts on Cover Crops

In an effort to better develop conservation programs and materials on cover crop benefits and challenges, the Extension Services of the Midwestern states, including Iowa, are asking for your assistance.

Share your thoughts on cover crops with this short on-line survey by Friday, February 27, 2015.

Any information you provide – whether you actively use cover crops or not – is much appreciated and anonymous.  The survey can be found HERE.


-Liz Juchems

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