The New Frontier of Farming

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“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.

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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.

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“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!

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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.

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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

Change to Haying and Grazing Date for Cover Crop Prevented Planting Acres

Risk Management Agency Release, June 20, 2019

Farmers who planted cover crops on prevented plant acres will be permitted to hay, graze or chop those fields earlier than November this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today. USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) adjusted the 2019 final haying and grazing date from November 1 to September 1 to help farmers who were prevented from planting because of flooding and excess rainfall this spring.

“We recognize farmers were greatly impacted by some of the unprecedented flooding and excessive rain this spring, and we made this one-year adjustment to help farmers with the tough decisions they are facing this year,” said Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey. “This change will make good stewardship of the land easier to accomplish while also providing an opportunity to ensure quality forage is available for livestock this fall.”

RMA has also determined that silage, haylage and baleage should be treated in the same manner as haying and grazing for this year. Producers can hay, graze or cut cover crops for silage, haylage or baleage on prevented plant acres on or after September 1 and still maintain eligibility for their full 2019 prevented planting indemnity.

“These adjustments have been made for 2019 only,” said RMA Administrator Martin Barbre. “RMA will evaluate the prudence of a permanent adjustment moving forward.”

Other USDA Programs

Other USDA agencies are also assisting producers with delayed or prevented planting. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is extending the deadline to report prevented plant acres in select counties, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is holding special sign-ups for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program in certain states to help with planting cover crops on impacted lands. Contact your local FSA and NRCS offices to learn more.

More Information

Read our frequently asked questions to learn more about prevented plant.

Crop insurance is sold and delivered solely through private crop insurance agents. A list of crop insurance agents is available at all USDA Service Centers and online at the RMA Agent Locator. Learn more about crop insurance and the modern farm safety net at rma.usda.gov.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

Cover Crops Taking Flight

Nate Voss started out a cover crop skeptic. He’ll openly admit that.

“I’ll be honest with you, I really wasn’t sure about this whole [cover crop] thing startin’ out 6 years ago. Now we’re getting a lot better at it!”

After 6 years of cover crop experience, I think it’s safe to say he’s now a believer, sharing his cover cropping experience at an Iowa Learning Farms field day yesterday hosted by Steier Ag Aviation near Whittemore. Voss farms near LuVerne in north central Iowa and also works with Steier Ag Aviation.

Voss’s experience with cover crops includes flying on oats, and some radish, into standing crops in late August/early September.  He is also just starting to get his feet wet with cereal rye.  One of the first things he noticed with the integration of a cover crop was at harvest – “it gives you great field conditions combining into beans.”


Voss goes on to share with field day attendees all the benefits he has observed with using cover crops as part of his cropping system.

“There’s lots of different angles you can take with cover crops:

  • A lot of guys like it for erosion, keeping soil in place. In the winter when I’m driving around, my ditches are not filled with dirt like a lot of them are.
  • I personally like cover crops for holding nitrogen in place, not sending it down the creek. Maybe I can do something about the water quality challenges we face—I’d rather be proactive, get a head start on this thing.
  • After 6 years, I’m really starting to see improvements with soil structure. My soil microbiology is really firing back up!
  • Some folks also are going into cover crops for grazing.
  • My ultimate goal is I want to have something living out there all year round.”


For Voss, the integration of cover crops also served as a springboard into strip till:

“I get bored pretty easy and the wheels start turnin’… a couple beers and some pizza later [with a neighbor who was a long-time strip-tiller], and we were pulling strips out in the field.

“I think we can all acknowledge that last fall was not great.  But my best yielding corn was in the field with strip till and 5 years of cover crops.

“I loved it so much, I called my banker to buy a strip till bar!”


On the fence about taking the plunge and trying out cover crops or strip till?   Consider Voss’s top tips for success along the way:

  • Go to field days and workshops to learn. You’ve taken the first step just by being here today—opening your mind to something new.
  • Be willing to get outside your comfort zone and give it a shot. [My grandfather is my biggest critic. Now I just like to get out there and prove him wrong!]
  • Ask questions.
  • Talk to others that are also givin’ it a try. Get together over coffee. Or pizza and beers. Talk to them about their failures so you don’t make the same ones.
  • Sometimes you’re gonna question yourself along the way.
  • There are tons of great resources out there for everyone—the big guys down to little peons like me.
  • Head in to your NRCS office to learn about cost share options.
  • Weather is always an uncertainty. Think about how you can best work with Mother Nature.

Now is the time to be planning ahead for cover crop seeding this coming fall!   Check out our Iowa Learning Farms Cover Crop Resources page and YouTube channel to learn more, along with reaching out to your local ISU Extension and Outreach field agronomist and USDA-NRCS staff—they are the local “boots on the ground” ready to help you out with making conservation practices happen!

Ann Staudt

Impact of cover crops on weed management

Dr. Bob Hartzler, professor of agronomy and an extension weed specialist, and Meaghan Anderson,  field agronomist in central Iowa posted this recent Integrated Crop Management blog on the impact of cover crops on weed management.

LichtBlog-02One benefit of planting cover crops is their contribution to weed management.  While several factors contribute to the inhibition of weeds by cover crops, the physical barrier of cover crop residue on the soil surface is most important.  Research has shown a strong relationship between the amount of cover crop biomass at termination and the level of weed control provided by the cover crop.

Because of the importance of cover crop biomass, it is essential to manage the cover crop to maximize growth when using cover crops to aid weed management.  The following practices have a major influence on cover crop biomass:

1) Planting and termination date.

2) Cover crop species.

Due to the risk for negative effects of cover crops on corn yield, there is greater potential for using cover crops for weed suppression in soybean.  The longer termination is delayed, the greater accumulation of biomass, and the more benefit in suppressing weeds.  In most years, delaying termination until mid- to late-May will allow sufficient biomass for consistent weed suppression.

Increasing the seeding rate of cereal rye above recommended rates generally has little impact on the quantity of biomass when termination is delayed, except in cases of very late planting. The tillering ability of rye is responsible for the lack of responsiveness to seeding rate.  Higher seeding rates may result in more rapid ground coverage in the fall and early spring, but the impact of seeding rate on biomass is diminished when termination is delayed until stem elongation.

Be sure to read the full blog here to learn more about potential reductions in herbicide use and allelopathy considerations.