Midwest Cover Crop Council Launches Updated Cover Crop Selector Tools

The Midwest Cover Crop Council (MCCC) Cover Crop Decision Tools are web-based systems to assist farmers in selecting cover crops to include in field crop and vegetable rotations.

The Cover Crop Decision Tools are an initiative by the MCCC to consolidate cover crop information by state to help farmers make cover crop selections at the county level. Information for each state/province is developed by a team of cover crop experts including university researchers, Extension educators, NRCS personnel, agriculture department personnel, crop advisors, seed suppliers and farmers. The team reviewed and refined information from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)  publication Managing Cover Crops Profitably, 3rd edition to refine application within their state/province. The information and ratings contained in the Cover Crop Decision Tool is the team consensus based on literature, research results, on-farm experience and practical knowledge.

Decision Tool Q&A Webinar

Wednesday, September 23rd at Noon Eastern / 11:00 am Central

Join MCCC for an in-depth look at the revised decision tool with Babak Saravi, Ian Kropp with the Decision Support and Informatics Lab of Michigan State University and Dean Baas and Anna Morrow with the Midwest Cover Crops Council.

This webinar will be recorded and posted here for later viewing.

Register Here

Liz Ripley

Cover Crop Options to Consider for Damaged Crops this Fall

This article was originally published on August 27, 2020 by Mike Henderson and Mark Licht for Integrated Crop Management News and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Many fields have been ravaged by adverse weather this year in Iowa. On top of drought and hail we had a devastating derecho steam-roll a wide swath of Iowa starting in Sac County and progressing eastward along Highway 30. Along with the decision of how to handle this year’s crop, consideration for protecting the soil and preparing for next year’s crop should include cover crops.

Use of cover crops after a crop is damaged by adverse weather can provide short term protection of the soil while enhancing the long-term benefits of increased water infiltration, improved nutrient cycling and soil organism diversity. Using a cover crop to scavenge nitrogen will be especially important in areas of Iowa that experienced reduced yields due to drought conditions. Cover crops have shown a significant reduction in nitrogen loss from fields the year following a drought.

Successful cover crop establishment will require managing the damaged crop residue to allow seed-to-soil contact and also considering the likelihood of sufficient soil moisture for cover crop establishment.

Cover crops and moisture concerns

Cover crops need moisture to germinate, soil to root in and sunlight to grow. Timing and method of cover crop seeding will be critical this year for successful cover crop establishment, especially given the expanding drought. Moisture is always a consideration for timing of seeding, this will be no different this year for all parts of the state. The decision on method of seeding; aerial, broadcast, broadcast/incorporate or drill, will be more important than ever this year.

Moisture concerns are not only to get the cover crop established but also for next year’s crop. It has been proven that good cover crop growth will increase infiltration rate, allowing more rainwater to be captured by the soil during rain events. Terminating the cover crop earlier in the spring will conserve accumulated moisture if rain shortfalls continue through spring.

Cover crops and damaged crops

Best management practices for wind damaged corn should be based on severity of the damage and how, or if, the crop will be harvested. Fields flattened by wind or with a high degree of green snap will have varying degrees of dense leaf cover. Evaluate fields prior to aerial seeding for confidence in getting the seed in contact with soil. In most cases aerial application over these fields would be an acceptable method but considerations must account for planned method and timing of harvest.

For fields that will be unharvested and tillage will be used to size residue, seeding a cover crop after the tillage operation will provide soil cover and protection. Timing of planting will dictate what cover crop species are best suited to be planted. If the tillage is done prior to mid-September, a mix of non-winter hardy species will provide fall protection and will not need to be terminated in the spring. Winter hardy species are a great option anytime in the fall and will extend benefits of living roots and soil cover into the spring. Seeding dates vary across the state based on historical frost dates but anytime seeding is past mid-September, a winter hardy species is recommended.

For fields planned to be harvested for silage or baled, seeding the cover crop immediately after harvest will provide the best establishment window.

Harvesting downed corn pushes the limitations of both equipment and operator. Seeding a cover crop too early could provide enough cover crop growth to further visually impede harvest. Seeding after the crop is harvested with a drill to get good seed-to-soil contact will increase chances for successful establishment of the cover crop. Consider how the crop will be harvested along with severity of damage when deciding what cover crop species, method and timing of seeding will be used.

Seeding options

Aerial/broadcast application should be timed 10 to 14 days prior to the canopy opening up. This is when soybeans have 10-20% of the leaves in the upper canopy turning yellow. For corn planned for grain harvest, this will be when kernels are at half milk line (mid R5). Increased success with establishment will occur if moisture is received within 10 days of the aerial application. Use of aerial application on damaged corn needs to take into account planned harvest method and current level of soil exposed.

Drilling or broadcast with incorporation always provides the most consistent cover crop stand. A drawback to this method is the shortened time for fall growth of the cover crop but using a winter hardy cover crop like cereal rye or triticale are good options to consider. Physical disturbance of corn ears on the ground will promote germination of volunteer corn.

Management of fields with downed corn will be a challenge, but it does not eliminate the opportunity to seed cover crops yet this fall.

Setup and Logistics for Cover Crop Success

This week we hosted the second of three Cover Crop Bootcamp sessions featuring tips for setup and logistics for cover crop success with Bert Strayer (cover crop lead, La Crosse Seed), James Holz (Greene County farmer and co-owner, Iowa Cover Crop), Dean Sponheim (co-owner, Sponheim Sales and Services) and Nate LeVan (field agronomist, Pioneer).

The theme shared by all the presenters was working with clients to listen, match the cover crop plan to meet the customer’s goals, and understand there are many ways to manage a cover crop – one size does not fit all!

Planning for success begins now, in July! Whether you are looking to add cover crops to your farm or advise farmers and landowner interested in cover crops, now is the time to be setting up your plan for seed type, seeding method and management needs for the spring.

James Holz and Bill Frederick with their families in a cover seed field field.
“Give the gift of water quality with cover crops!”

Holz provided some key things to keep in mind as you make your cover crops plans for the fall:

  1. Determine goals for using cover crops
  2. Be aware of potential cost share program rules to meet requirements
  3. Source quality seed
  4. Identify the preferred seeding method

As cover crops bridge the brown months overwinter, it is also important to have a plan in place for managing them in the spring. Sponheim and LeVan continued the conversation with advice for three levels of cover crop experience – first timers, intermediate, and expert.

“A key to spring management, regardless of experience, is management of nitrogen ahead of corn,” noted the duo. “More N is not the goal, but adding at least 1/3 of your total N at or just after planting is key when planting corn following cover crops.”

Be sure to check out the full webinar here to catch all the great tips they provide. You can also watch the first bootcamp webinar on our website.

Join us next week, on Wednesday at noon for the final webinar in the Cover Crop Bootcamp series: “Conservation Agronomy of Cover Crops: Start to Finish”. The presenters will be:

  • Dave Schwartz (executive vice president of sales in plant nutrition for Verdesian Life Sciences)
  • Meaghan Anderson (ISU Extension field agronomist)
  • Dr. Eileen Kladivko (professor of agronomy at Purdue University)

Topics include: Managing pests, residuals and herbicides; nitrogen management; agronomics of cover crop advising.

Liz Ripley

Tips for Adding Cover Crops to Your Farm

Today’s post focuses another in-field conservation practices covered in the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual and the great decisions trees related to cover crops!

Hands holding a clump of soil with green rye growing over a shovel

Cover crops are plant species, such as oats and cereal rye, planted to reduce soil erosion, improve soil health, and provide water quality benefits during the months of the year when crops are not actively growing on farmland. Incorporating cover crops improves soil health by:

  • Improving soil structure
  • Reducing soil compaction
  • Protecting the soil surface

Cover crops are seeded in the fall, either before or after harvest. They are not harvested as grains, but can be grazed or harvested as forage. Cover crops go hand-in-hand with no-tillage and strip-tillage.

6 Tips to Success for Starting Out with Cover Crops:

  • Oats ahead of corn
  • Cereal rye ahead of soybean
  • Selecting the seeding method that fits your system (see decision trees below)
  • Terminate 10-14 days ahead of corn and 3-7 days ahead of soybeans
  • Spring tillage of cover crops is NOT recommended
  • Adjust planter settings to higher residue system

The manual provides more detailed information on each of these tips and more, so download a FREE copy for your farm today.

Also be sure to check out our YouTube video series Cover Crops: Farmer Perspectives and Adding a Cover Crop to a Corn-Soybean System, as well as our recent webinar – Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020​​​​​​​ and virtual field days for more great information.

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

Building a Culture of Conservation – One Field Day at a Time

We are excited to announce the release of our 2019 field day evaluation report, now available online. Since 2004, we have utilized a multi-level evaluation process to gather feedback from attendees on the quality of the events, as well as information on the conservation practices they are implementing.

Highlights from this year’s report:

  • 23% of field day attendees were under age 35
  • 23% were female
  • 76% of farmers responding to surveys are using conservation practices (no-till/strip-till, cover crops, extended crop rotation, rotational grazing, prairie strips, pollinator habitat, saturated buffer and bioreactor.)

Cover crops are a key tool to helping meet the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy with the goal of 12 to 14 million acres statewide. Through the year-end evaluation process, we are able to create an estimate of the total acres, as well as gather data on species used and cost share usage.


Key cover crop findings:

16% growth in cover crop plantings.

Only 10% of new acres were from first time cover crop users – now a five year trend of declines of plantings from new farmers.

Cost share usage remained at 68%, while 75% of first time users reported using cost share.

Cereal rye remains the dominate species, followed by oats – 90% used rye, 21% used oats.


Reasons for implementing conservation practices varies by operation, but a new question asked respondents to identify their #1 reason from the following: variable weather, soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat, landlord stipulation, and reduce soil erosion.

Many practices that address the top two reasons, soil health and reducing soil erosion, also reduce nutrient loss. These topics bring farmers and landowners to field days, enabling reinforcement of practice value and introduction of additional approaches that can address their needs and help achieve Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.


Field days matter!  Farmers that attend more field days are more likely to plant cover crops, network with other farmers and influence more farmers than attended the event.

While our 2020 field day season has been delayed, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date on events in your area.

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

Prepare for Crop Year 2020 by Attending a Spring Field Day

Iowa Learning Farms is hosting four spring cover crop field days. Make plans to attend one near you! RSVP today to 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu.

March 17, Cover Crop Field Day
12:30-2:30pm
Agri-Tech Aviation
12871 Geneva St
Indianola, IA 50125
Warren County
Partners: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Natural Resource Conservation Service
Press Release
Flyer

March 18, Cover Crop and Soil Health Field Day
12:30-2:30pm
Campbell Farm
2260 Hwy 30
Grand Mound, IA 52751
Clinton County
Partner: Natural Resource Conservation Service
Press Release
Flyer

March 24, Cover Crop Field Day
5:30-7:30pm
Roger Van Donselaar Farm
511 6th Avenue West
Grinnell, IA 50112
Poweshiek County
Partners: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Poweshiek County Soil and Water Conservation District
Press Release
Flyer

April 9, Cover Crop Termination Field Day
3:30-5:30pm
Rick Juchems Farm
33635 110th St
Plainfield, IA 50666
Butler County
Partners: Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship 
*Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig will be speaking*

Liz Ripley

The New Frontier of Farming

ILFHeader(15-year)

“This is a really exciting time to be a farmer,” Jerry Dove told a large crowd during a cover crop and no-till focused workshop at his farm in Janesville on November 21st, “Soil health is the new frontier.”

Jerry DoveDove described the ways he’s been making cover crops and no-till work on his farm and his excitement was infectious. He described coming home from a no-till conference with the goal to plant green and how he planted soybeans into a 20 inch tall cereal rye cover crop. “It was a neat thing to walk around in,” he said, “It was fun to see the soybeans come through.” He then terminated the cover crop about three days after planting his beans.

He went on to explain the wonderful partnership that he sees between cover crops and no-till. “If you haven’t started no-till, you have to this year,” Dove urged after describing the improvements in soil structure and infiltration that he’s seen on his farm, “It doesn’t make any sense to beat up your field by driving over it.”

Attendees at the field day later got to compare the soil structure on the Dove farm to soil from a conventionally tilled field when a slake test was performed. The difference between Dove’s no-tilled soil and the conventionally tilled soil was immediately obvious, with Dove’s soil maintaining its aggregate stability after being submerged in water.

Slake Test Jerry Dove FD

No-till soil from Dove’s farm on the left, compared to conventionally tilled soil on the right during a slake test

Jason Gomes from North Iowa Agronomy Partners, Shaffer Ridgeway with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Elizabeth Juchems, Iowa Learning Farms, rounded out the presenters at the field day. If you’re interested in learning more about cover crops or no-till, join us at an upcoming field day near you!

Hilary Pierce

Farming for the Future

ILFHeaderDespite the cold, snowy weather we had a great turnout in Nashua last week for a cover crop and wetland field day that highlighted our ongoing Conservation Learning Lab project being conducted in Floyd and Story County.

Ben and AndyParticipating in the Floyd County site are brothers Andy and Ben Johnson. They grow corn and soybeans and manage a ewe flock and feeder lamb operation. The duo are no strangers to conservation and trying new practices. They began no-tilling soybeans over fifteen years ago and have nearly ten years of experience strip-tilling corn.

Their first experience with cover crops was in 2013 following a wet spring resulting in prevent planting acres. They turned to family farming in a nearby watershed project that had been using cover crops in the systems for advice on how to incorporate them into their farming systems as well.

In 2016, they seeded about 477 acres in the project watershed and have been impressed with the improved water infiltration when cover crops were added to their no-till and strip-till system.

Ben Johnson2

“We are able to get in the field plant and harvest 1-2 days before our neighbors due to improved water infiltration. We have maintained or improved our yields since we reduced our tillage,” stated Ben.

“On top of that, we are saving time, labor and fuel by switching to strip-till for our corn acres,” noted Andy.

When asked about changes in soil organic matter Ben responded, “Our soil is already fairly high, so we don’t see as big of changes as people that are starting with lower organic matter. Cover crops help protect soil. I don’t want to start farming a farm that is 6% (organic matter) and leave it to my kids at 4%.”

Be sure to check out this month’s Conservation Chat to hear directly from Ben and Andy. Jacqueline Comito sat down with them before the field day to discuss the project and more!

-Liz Juchems

 

Farming for the Future

Last night was a lovely evening to learn more about cover crops and adding conservation to lease agreements at the Fawcett Farm near West Branch. The Fawcett Family has adopted a variety of conservation practices on their farm including prairie strips and a recently installed saturated buffer. The site was a perfect backdrop for what is possible when farmers and landowners work together to keep keep the soil in place to maintain the ability to farm the land for generations to come.

IMG_5089“Organic matter is one of the best indicators of soil health,” stated Virgil Schmitt, ISU Extension Field Agronomist, who kicked off the program. ” In the long run, improved soil health improves yields as the biological processes are working better. You can’t improve soil health if you loosing soil to erosion.”

That’s where no-till and cover crops come into play! By adding a cover crop to a no-till system, organic matter is able to accumulate and the nearly continuous cover of living plants significantly reduces soil erosion.

Virgil provided some key tips for those getting started with cover crops:

  • Cereal rye before soybeans
  • Oats before corn (terminates with a hard frost and will not need to be terminated in the spring)
  • Start on a single field or portion of field
  • Pay attention to details

“Adding a cover crop can be a relatively easy process if recognized as a change in management that requires planning to increase success,” said Schmitt. There are resources like Iowa Learning Farms farmer partners with years of cover crop experience that can serve as mentors – reach out to one in your area!

IMG_5109Chris Henning, Greene County landowner, shared some advice with fellow landowners in attendance, “It’s never to early to think about succession planning. My goal is to keep Iowa beautiful for years to come and part of reaching that goal is making a plan for my land after I’m no longer making the decisions.”

Henning also stressed the importance of communication between the landowner and tenant to maintain a good working relationship that meets production and conservation goals. “When I first required cover crops on my farm, my tenant was skeptical but willing to work with them. After a couple years of seeing the benefits on my fields, he has added cover crops to his own acres and has been very pleased.”

IMG_5121If you or someone you know is looking for information on adding conservation to leases, Charles Brown, ISU Extension Farm Management Specialist, shared some great resources along with his personal experiences helping landowners and tenants work through the discussion.

“Working together is crucial to the success of the changes. If you simply tell someone they have to do it, the results may not turn out as you had hoped. Instead, sit down and have a conversation about the land and the management and get the lease agreement in writing,” shared Brown.

Brown also highlighted an important item to consider in the discussion: who pays for the cover crops. “I have seen many different payment arrangements – landowner, tenant, shared costs, longer leases. All are possible and have worked well, but it is a matter of having the discussion.”

For more information on conservation leases, visit ISU Ag Decision Maker. You can find a cover crop lease insertion from Nature Conservancy here.

We still have more field days coming up, so be sure to check out our events page to learn more and subscribe to our e-newsletter to stay in touch!

Liz Juchems

Secure your cover crop seed for fall 2019 today!

ILFHeader(15-year)

Gaesser Family

We had a great evening for a cover crop field day hosted by the Gaesser family near Corning on Tuesday, July 9th. With nearly 50 people in attendance, there was great interest in adding more cover crop acres among the experienced users and a handful of those looking to try it for the first time.

Sarah Carlson, Practical Farmers of Iowa, helped set the stage by sharing how farmers can help make cover crops pay with benefits beyond improved water quality and soil erosion reduction.

“If we want to get started and make it pay, it is best to start with a small grain like rye or oats,” commented Carlson. “In a corn/soybean rotation, legumes and brassicas are not going to get enough sunlight to justify the seed cost.”

IMG_5746For the more experienced cover crop users, Carlson recommended taking them to the next level by delaying spring termination of rye ahead of soybeans to achieve weed control benefits and reducing herbicide costs. Another suggestion was planting corn in 60 inch rows to interseed the cover crop earlier in the season to achieve more growth.

IMG_5769

The Gaesser family has been growing their own rye seed for cover crops for the past few years as a way to control costs and improve soil and water quality on their farm.

“We grow our own cereal rye seed each year averaging between 3,000-7,000 bushels to help us cover about half of our crop acres. We like to include rye in the rotation on fields that have been a challenge before – weed pressure or erosion. Once harvested, we clean and store it for use that same year,” stated Chris Gaesser.

Having your own seed supply is a major advantage this year due to the widespread need for prevented planting seed across the Midwest.

IMG_5788“The cover crop seed surplus from 2018 has been used up already this year,” shared Bert Strayer of La Crosse Seed. “That means this year’s cover crop seed will come from what gets harvested in the next month or so. For that reason it is encouraged to get your seed orders in as soon as you can to make sure you have access to seed when you want to be seeding this fall.”

If you are looking for a seed source near you, check out the Practical Farmers of Iowa Cover Crop Business Directory.

Be sure to stay tuned to our events page for more cover crop field days later this year!

Liz Juchems