Relay Intercropping has Potential in Iowa

In 2018 and 2019, research was conducted on a relay intercropping and double cropping systems to evaluate as a possible alternative to Iowa’s traditional corn-soybean or continuous corn cropping system.

There were 2 sites; one near Kalona and another near Ames, Iowa, to study these possible alternatives. The Kalona site planted cereal rye immediately after corn harvesting. Following cereal rye harvest, soybean was double cropped. In 2018, the cereal rye yield averaged 46.1 bushels per acre and the double crop soybean yield averaged 23.2 bushels per acre. In 2019, the cereal rye yield averaged 30 bushels per acre and the soybean did not reach maturity and were not harvestable. It should be noted, that in 2018 there was an earlier than normal first fall frost.

Near Ames there were 4 treatments were: (1) soybean with winter wheat as a cover crop terminated before planting, (2) winter wheat-soybean relay intercropping with fall strip-tillage after November 1, (3) winter wheat-soybean relay intercropping with no tillage, and (4) soybean double cropped after winter wheat harvest. Wheat yields averaged 57.2 and 30.1 bushels per acre in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The lower yields in 2019 are attributed to cooler, wetter spring conditions. Wheat yields in 2018 were not significantly affected by the strip-tillage treatment, however, in 2019, the wheat yields in the soybean double crop system were significantly higher than either relay intercropping system (Figure 1). Soybean yields averaged 16.3 and 33.0 bushels per acre in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Wet conditions in the fall of 2018 resulted in delayed harvest and pod shattering. In 2019, the higher soybean yield was attributed to the soybean with winter wheat system and the lowest yield was in the double crop soybean system . The fall strip-tillage with the relay intercropping system did provide a higher soybean yield than with no tillage.

In conclusion, soybean and winter wheat (and likely other small grains) can be grown in a relay intercropping or double cropping system in Iowa but with increased production risk. Double cropping soybean following a small grain is very high risk because of much lower soybean yield potential due to early to mid-July planting dates and frost potential prior to reaching physiological maturity. A relay intercropping system reduces some of the risk associated with double cropping, but has some of its own risks. These risks are associated with being able to relay plant soybean into the small grain ahead of the small grain reaching the joint stage; harvesting the small grain before the soybean grow taller than the small grain heads; implement traffic can reduce the small grain harvestable yield; and drought conditions resulting in competition for soil moisture may be limiting for either or both crops. However, it is realistic to use an alternative cropping system to reduce risk of nitrogen and phosphorus losses while potentially increasing overall productivity.

Figure 1. Soybean (yellow) and winter wheat (red) yields under four systems: soybean with winter wheat as a cover crop (S w/ Wcc); winter wheat-soybean relay intercropping with fall strip-tillage (Relay ST); winter wheat-soybean relay intercropping (Relay); and soybean double cropped after winter wheat (Sdc).

Mark Licht

The Business of Cover Crops

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted the first webinar in the Cover Crop Bootcamp series: “The Business of Cover Crops” with Matt Carstens, President & CEO of Landus Cooperative, and Lee Briese, Independent Crop Consultant at Centrol of Twin Valley.

Carstens discussed the progress that he’s seen in agriculture throughout his career and the changes that are taking place. He believes that cover crops are one tool in the toolbox that can help producers achieve their goals. He also stated the importance of these producers having trusted advisers who can help them understand how they can best use cover crops in their operations.

Cover crops can be thought of as a 9/16″ wrench in a producer’s toolbox

Briese then shared his experience in providing services to growers and working with local extension as an independent crop consultant. Through his outreach, Briese has seen a lot of interest from farmers, not just the “progressive” early adopters of conservation practices, but also from middle or late adopters. These middle/late adopters are also showing up to meetings, asking questions, and learning more about how conservation practices like cover crops could be used in their operations.

Briese also described covered crops as a tool in the toolbox of producers—a 9/16″ wrench. He said that cover crops can be used in every system, by every different type of farmer, but that it is essential that these farmers choose the right tool for their operation. Cover crops are tools that are needed to address issues of soil and water erosion, but that they are individual species and choosing the right species, timing and placement is important.

Of the cover crop species, Briese sees cereal rye and radishes as 9/16″ wrenches—they are easy to use and can be applied in a variety of different situations. However there are many different types of crops that can be used as cover crops and it’s important for advisers to consider the specifics of the situation and determine what tools are needed to solve issues and meet the producer’s goals.

On-farm benefits of cover crops include reducing soil and water erosion, managing areas with high salinity, and suppressing weeds. Briese believes that in the future we will see more intercropping and multiple species being planted on agricultural fields to address these concerns. He went on to share several different scenarios where cover crops were being used by his clients to effectively manage issues in their farming operations.

To learn more, watch the full webinar here.

Join us next week, on Wednesday at noon for the second webinar in the Cover Crop Bootcamp series: “Setup and Logistics for Cover Crop Success”. The presenters will be:

  • Bert Strayer (cover crop lead, La Crosse Seed)
  • James Holz (Greene County farmer and co-owner, Iowa Cover Crop)
  • Dean Sponheim (co-owner, Sponheim Seeds and Services)
  • Nate LeVan (field agronomist, Pioneer)

Topics include: Fall and spring logistics; seeding preparation and process; coordination of services – termination, nutrient management, strip-tillage, crop scouting.

Hilary Pierce

Optimizing Yields of Corn Planted After a Cereal Rye Cover Crop

Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about the effect of a cereal rye cover crop on corn yield. Alison Robertson, Professor and Extension Field Crops Pathologist at Iowa State University, shared results from one of her research projects, which investigates the effect of planting green on corn growth and development, and seedling disease. For this research project, experimental plots, microplots, and on-farm trials were used to look at how different rye termination dates and fertilizer applications affected the early corn growth and seedling disease, as well as overall yield.

Treatments used for the experimental plot field trial

It is recommended that rye cover crops are terminated at least ten days before planting corn to reduce potential yield drag in corn. However, in some years this is not possible, due to conditions at planting, or when a farmer would prefer to let the cover crop grow as long as possible for soil health and environmental benefits. This research looks at the effect of planting green and different rye termination dates on corn growth and yield.

2019 yield results from the experimental field trials for no rye, rye terminated 18 days before planting (DBP) with nitrogen applied, rye terminated 18 DBP, rye terminated 3 DBP, rye terminated 6 days after planting (DAP), and rye terminated 12 DAP

The experimental plot field trial in 2019 showed that yield was negatively impacted by the rye, except for when the rye was terminated 18 days before planting (DBP) and nitrogen was applied.

The microplot treatments

The microplots, which were about 15-20 plants long, looked at different fertilizer treatments for corn grown after rye and after no rye. The results from these treatments in 2019 showed that rye affects the early growth of corn. An unexpected result of this study was that there was more root rot present where nitrogen was applied.

Summary of the 2019 data

To learn more about this research project and the effect of rye cover crops on corn growth and development, watch the full webinar here.

Join us this week, on Wednesday, July 8 at noon, when the Cover Crop Bootcamp series kicks off with a presentation titled “The Business of Cover Crops” by Matt Carstens, President & CEO of Landus Cooperative, and Lee Briese, Independent Crop Consultant at Centrol of Twin Valley.

Hilary Pierce

July 1 Webinar: Optimizing Yields of Corn Planted After a Cereal Rye Cover Crop

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, July 1 at noon about the effect of a cereal rye cover crop on corn yield.

Alison Robertson, Professor and Extension Field Crops Pathologist at Iowa State University, will share results from one of her research projects which investigate the effect of planting green on corn growth and development, and seedling disease. It is recommended that rye cover crops are terminated at least ten days before planting corn to reduce potential yield drag in corn. However, in some years this is not possible, due to conditions at planting, or when a farmer would prefer to let the cover crop grow as long as possible for soil health and environmental benefits. This webinar will explore the benefits or disadvantages of this practice.

“Starting to incorporate cover crops on a farm may seem daunting, so our research seeks to better understand the system and provide management options to ensure new adopters are successful,” said Robertson, whose research lab focuses on seedling diseases of corn and soybean caused by oomycetes (water molds), particularly in corn and soybean planted after cover crops. “The benefits of cover crops far outweigh the disadvantages; and there are ways to manage the disadvantages.”

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on July 1:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/j/364284172

    Or, go to https://iastate.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 364 284 172 

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for, for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Reaping Benefits from Diverse Crop Rotations

Do current corn and soybean prices have you in the market for diversifying your crop rotation?  Considering raising small grains for cover crop seed production? The Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual can serve as a guide for successfully making the transition to a more diversified rotation.

In Iowa, a common diverse rotation would include a year of winter small grain interseeded with red clover following a crop of soybean. A more diverse rotation would include two to three years of alfalfa or legume-grass mixtures managed for hay production or grazing.

Where to begin?

Where your farm is located helps inform the best small grain options for establishing a diverse crop rotation – see image below (click to view it larger).

Oats, drilled in spring, are more reliable than winter small grains north of Interstate 80, due to the potential for winterkill. Drilled before October 15, winter small grains— wheat, rye, or triticale— are more successful south of Interstate 80.  Another option is to plant a spring small grain—oats, wheat, triticale, or barley—the following spring.

Winter small grains can also be frost-seeded with red clover, or followed with a cover crop after harvest. Typically, spring small grains in Iowa can be sown alone, or companion-seeded with legumes such as alfalfa or red clover.

Tillage Management with Diverse Rotations

  • Use no-tillage for seeding small grains into corn or soybean residue.
  • Plant no-tillage corn or soybean into small grains or alfalfa, unless wildlife holes are problematic.

Guidelines for Incorporating Small Grains:

  • Avoid using variety not stated (VNS) seed for winter or spring small grains intended for grain harvest. Rather, plant seed of named varieties, tested for germination and weed seeds.
  • Plant oats at a seeding rate of 80 to 90 pounds pure live seed per acre.
  • Plant winter small grains at a rate of 60 to 70 pounds pure live seed per acre with an adequate level of soil test phosphorus. Soil phosphorus is important for winter survival of small grains.
  • Apply 30 to 40 pounds of nitrogen per acre to optimize small grain production.
  • In general, diverse crop rotations disrupt and potentially reduce disease pressure and insect cycles. However, consider applying a fungicide to control head blight of winter small grains and rust on oats.
  • Increase seed quality with post-harvest aeration of small grains.
  • Test wheat, rye, barley, and hulled oats for levels of vomitoxin before feeding to livestock.

Guidelines for Incorporating Perennials:

  • Account for nitrogen fixation legumes in the following crop.
  • The extended soil surface cover by alfalfa or a legume-grass mixture reduces the loss of nitrogen and phosphorus. However, crop removal of phosphorus is greater with hay than with corn or soybean grain.
  • Frost-seed red clover into winter small grains during the spring freeze-thaw period at 10 to 12 pounds per acre. Clip red clover and weeds one month after small grain and straw harvest.

See the decision tree image below to help further diversify your rotation. Click to open in a new tab for easier viewing.

There are great additional resources for diversifying crop rotations found on page 59 of the free manual, so download your copy today!

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

April 16 Virtual Field Day: Managing Cereal Rye Ahead Of Corn

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and Conservation Learning Group, is launching a new virtual free cover crop field day on Thursday, April 16th at 1pm CST that will include video footage from the field. The event will allow for live interaction with Mark Licht, Iowa State University Assistant Professor & Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, and Alison Robertson, Iowa State University Plant Pathology and Microbiology Professor and Extension Field Pathologist as they show their current cover crop research projects.

Cover crops continue to grow in popularity due to their many benefits including soil erosion reductions, weed suppression potential, reduced nitrogen and phosphorus loads entering water bodies, and increased soil organic matter. Cereal rye is the most commonly used cover crop species in Iowa and many other Midwestern states. Proper management of cereal rye ahead of corn is key to optimizing conservation and crop production goals.

Licht and Robertson will discuss two research projects that began fall 2018 and are funded the Iowa Nutrient Research Center. Together they are exploring nitrogen rates, pest and pathogen management, seeding rates, termination dates and the best tillage management system for managing cereal rye ahead of corn.

Research Plots Spring 2020. Photo Credit: Mark Licht

“One of questions we are looking to answer is how can we reduce the cost of cover crops through reduced seeding rates and still meet soil health and water quality conservation goals, while simultaneously adjusting termination timing and seeding method to meet corn production goals. We are aiming to find the balance,” stated Licht. “In the second project, we are looking at no-tillage and strip-tillage systems with different starter nitrogen rates to manage corn for optimal growth following cereal rye.”

To participate in the live field day, shortly before 1:00 pm CST on April 16:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/s/315189792

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 315 189 792

The field day will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. The archive is available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for, for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live field day.

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020

On Wednesday Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about cover crops and no-till, with advice for operators who are using or interested in using these practices.

Liz Ripley, Conservation & Cover Crop Outreach Specialist, began by discussing cover crops and the data on their use collected by ILF through their field day participants. While the number of acres with cover crops has grown over recent years in Iowa, more adoption of the practice will be needed to meet the goals set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Ripley shared the results of a long term rye study and a study looking at the impacts of individual species and mixtures of species on water quality and crop yield. She also provided keys to success with cover crops:

Mark Licht, Assistant Professor & Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, then shared information about switching to no-till and the associated benefits. A study done at Iowa State University found that no-till had lower input costs and yielded higher economic return, when compared to conventional tillage. Mark’s tips for success when switching to no-till:

More information on these practices can also be found in the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual, available for free from the ISU Extension Store.

Watch the full webinar! We also have many other great archived webinars available here: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Join us next week, at noon on April 15, when Adam Janke will present: “Finding Mutual Opportunities for Soil, Water, and Wildlife by Redefining the Field Edge”.

Hilary Pierce

April 8 Webinar: Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, April 8 at noon. Due to the necessary postponement of our spring field days, this webinar will provide information on how to succeed with cover crops and no-till for spring 2020.

Liz Ripley, Conservation & Cover Crop Outreach Specialist, and Mark Licht, Assistant Professor & Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, will share results from a variety of cover crop projects. These projects include a 10-year cereal rye cover crop study, species selection information, water quality impacts, and tips for spring termination.

Cover crops continue to grow in popularity in Iowa due to their many benefits: reduced soil erosion, weed suppression potential, reduced nitrogen and phosphorus loads entering water bodies, and increased soil organic matter. “Fall 2019 was another difficult harvest season with limited time to complete fall tillage. Cover crops and no-tillage work together to help increase water infiltration and reduce erosion during heavy rain events,” said Ripley and Licht.

Don’t miss this webinar!

DATE: Wednesday, April 8, 2020

TIME: 12:00 pm

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: shortly before 12:00 pm on April 8th:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/j/364284172

    Or, go to https://iastate.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 364 284 172 

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for, for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Step 1: Determine Your Goals for Cover Crops

ILFHeader(15-year)At our final event of the year, one underlying theme was mentioned by all our speakers. To be successful with cover crops, the first step is to determine what your goals are. From there you can determine which species, seeding methods and termination plans are best suited for your operation.

Sioux County farmers Micah and Josh Rensink have been using cover crops since 2016 and have seeded them using a Hagie into standing crops, aerially into standing soybeans and drilling after silage harvest for neighbors with livestock.

IMG_0106

“Our main goals are to reduce erosion, build organic matter, hold nutrients and reduce our herbicide use,” noted Josh. “We have looked a different mixes and seeding methods to find what will work best for us. While we don’t have livestock in our operation, cover crops provide a wide range of forage options. That is one way to help with the economics side of cover crops.”

IMG_0105Based on their experiences and those they worked with Micah had some great advice, “Be sure to know the seed source and quality before seeding to avoid potential weed contamination and future frustration. Cheaper seed isn’t always a better deal!”

When asked what advice they would give to first time cover crop users they stated, “Start small and start simple. Get cover crops on acres going to soybeans and give it a try. Reach out to those around you trying it. We would be happy to chat with you, too.”

IMG_0117Joel DeJong, ISU Extension Field Agronomist, also had some great tips to share to help align cover crops with producer goals:

  • After September 15 – seed a winter small grain (rye, barley, wheat, triticale).
  • Be sure to check the herbicide labels for grazing restrictions and modify herbicide plans as needed to ensure legal forage use.
  • Utilize resources like the Midwest Cover Crop Council Selector Tool
  • Available cost-share for cover crops ≠ goal – ask yourself “What do I want to get from using cover crops” instead.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, like the group of Dordt University students who wanted to experiment with interseeding and built their own custom seeder (below). Look forward to more cover crop trials and results from Dordt University students in the near future!

IMG_0123

Liz Juchems

Any way you want it, that’s the way to seed it!

ILFHeader(15-year)The panelists at our field day last week near Luana all use a variety of seeding methods to get the cover crops in the field, but all agreed that the cover crops offer a variety of benefits to their farming operation.

Landsgard Cover Crop 3Daryl Landsgard, who typically drills his cover crops, stated “Rye is king of cover crops in terms of soil health and getting biomass to improve the soil.”

Landsgard shared a recent experience where his farm received over two inches of rain in a very short time period. By the time it stopped and he got his boots on to check the field behind his house, the water had almost completely infiltrated. In his curiosity, he took a drive down the road and noted how there was still significant amounts of water standing in fields that had tillage done earlier in the year.

“Water infiltration is one of the greatest benefits of cover crops and no-till,” noted Landsgard

IMG_4478Using a modified soybean planter, Ron Sass seeds his cover crops to reduce soil erosion. “We need to keep soil around for thousands of generations to come. We can’t loose any more! The benefit of me using cover crops is for the farmers of the future – they’ll get more out it than I will.”

Rounding out the panel was Joe Shirbroun, who has used an airplane and had pretty good results the past couple of years. He is motivated to find a way to make cover crops work on his farm while he has the flexibility to learn the best management with the help from cost-share.

IMG_4487“Regulation is coming. I use cost share to figure out how to do this before they (cover crops) get mandated. Right now, it isn’t a net gain, it is a small loss but I am willing to do that for water quality,” commented Shirbroun.

Any way you want it, that’s the way to seed it! If you are interested in adding cover crops to your land, there are multiple ways to get them seeded to help match your system goals and labor availability.  Consider starting with cereal rye before soybeans and seeding oats ahead of corn.

There are a lot of great resources available on our website, but also at your county ISU Extension Office or NRCS Office and local farmers in your area who have been successful with cover crops on their farms.  Make a plan to get cover crops part of your operation in 2020!.

Liz Juchems