There are many news headlines competing for our attention every day and while some fade into the background, water quality and conservation practices remain in the forefront as we work to meet the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. A recent article written by Laura Sayre for New Food Economy asks the question: Can Cover Crops Clean the Corn Belt? and I strongly encourage you to check it out!
Cover crops provide a multitude of benefits including: helping improve water quality by reducing the losses of both nitrates and phosphorus, minimizing soil erosion, improving soil health and mimicking diversified crop rotation benefits by keeping the fields green in the winter.
A key practice in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy toolbox, cover crops are able to help reduce both nitrogen and phosphorus leaving the field and entering water bodies. In addition to practices like wetlands, bioreactors and nutrient management, one of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy scenarios calls for 65% of Iowa row crop acres (about 15 million acres) to be seeded with cover crops. At just over 600,000 acres seeded in 2016, we still have a long way to go to reach that level of adoption. However, there are a variety of economic opportunities that accompany that goal including cover crop seed growers and dealers, co-op, and equipment manufacturers.
Whether or not cover crops can indeed help clean the Corn Belt is up to all Iowans. This includes, but not limited to those mentioned in the article: researchers like Dr. Matt Liebman with Iowa State University, farmers and landowners like ILF farmer partner Tim Smith, non-profit organizations like Practical Farmers of Iowa, our state agency partners, and urban residents, like myself, all doing our part to help keep the water clean and supporting the efforts of others working towards meeting the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.