Field Day Recap: Management Matters with Cover Crops!

Cover crops and conservation leases were the theme of an Iowa Learning Farms Women Landowners Cover Crop Workshop held in Marshalltown on June 7.  While cover crops offer numerous benefits out on the landscape, one common theme emerged clearly from the workshop presentations and discussion  — it all comes down to active management when integrating a cover crop.

Allen Burt, who farms 3 miles north of Marshalltown, kicked off the workshop by sharing his experience with cover crops and some of his key management considerations.

He emphasized, “Start with something easy.”  In Burt’s playbook, that means getting oats out on soybean ground as soon as you can in September (drill or broadcast), let them winterkill, and then plant corn into that in the spring.

On corn ground, he suggests starting with cereal rye and a little bit of starter fertilizer (something like a 10-23-23 mix) after the corn is harvested, ideally in early October. The cereal rye will survive over the winter, and then Burt recommends terminating in the spring with glyphosate.

Burt’s recommendations align nicely with the Iowa Learning Farms’ findings, as well, shared at the workshop by Liz Juchems, Conservation Outreach Specialist.

Juchems also shared findings about yield impacts following cover crops. Farmer-partners working with cereal rye reported that in 59 of 63 site-years, strips with cover crops were yield neutral compared to strips without a cover crop – no negative impact on corn and soybean yields. The only significant yield declines were in the first two “learning” years of this long-term study, when producers faced challenges regarding spring termination and planter adjustments to accommodate the additional residue from the cover crop. Over time, those management challenges were overcome to realize cover crop success.

Interwoven with the presentations was an earthworm midden counting hands-on demonstration, as well as lively discussion and dialogue from the 25 people in attendance, including area landowners, operators, and conservation/ag professionals.

One producer in attendance brought up, “The #1 problem in farming today is soil erosion.”  Another producer added to that, commenting that a close second in terms of challenges today is the perception of “This is the way we’ve always done it,” acknowledging there can be some resistance to new practices like cover crops, despite the benefits to reducing erosion, benefitting soil structure, etc.

Charles Brown, Farm Management Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, noted, “When you talk about using cover crops, it’s a different management practice – you can’t just do the same thing you’ve always done.”  He shared with the group his own experience with growing cover crops, as well as numerous suggestions for landowners and operators to work together to integrate cover crops into a written conservation lease.

Farmer Allen Burt emphasized, “As a producer, my message for you is, ‘Get out there and try it!  If you have the right attitude, you can do it! … Cover crops are a small investment to make things better in the long run.”

Ann Staudt

This workshop was put on as a partnership of Iowa Learning Farms and Marshall Co. Farm Bureau.

Webinar Recap: Farmer and Farm Management Expert Discusses Cover Crops and Farm Leases

s5-sampson-042418-121-e1525362676924.jpgCover crops have taken off in Iowa over the years, but there are lingering questions about how to best incorporate the practice on rented farmland. Who pays for the practice? What are the short- and long-term benefits and costs to consider? How do you capture the arrangement in a farm lease?

Charles Brown joined us this week in our monthly Iowa Learning Farm webinar series to cover frequently asked questions about cover crops as part of a farm lease arrangement. He shared his unique perspective as both an Iowa State University Extension Farm Management Specialist and as a farmer himself who uses cover crops in Wapello County.

Why Add Cover Crops to Your Farmland?
Cover crops are an important tool to help reduce soil erosion and nutrient losses while also improving soil health. On rented land, questions arise about how to account for short-term costs for cover crop seed and application and the long-term benefits to the land. Charles shared some of his experiences as a farmer in Wapello County, including his yield bump he has experienced with corn following cover crops in 2017.

“Adjoining fields or fields within a half mile made 95 bushel to the acre, 110 and 130. That field made 170. Now whether that’s because of the cover crops, no-till, was I just luckier than the rest of them, I don’t know. It’s probably a combination of all of those things.”

“I have not seen any yield reduction because of using cover crops. As a matter of fact, I’d probably say the opposite in my experience over the past five years.”

What Should You Consider When Writing a Farm Lease with Cover Crops?
Charles recommended looking at the most recent 2018 Cash Rental Survey from Ag Decision Maker for average cash rental rates in your area. In addition:

  • Use written leases over verbal agreements
  • Farm land according to conservation plan (often on file at FSA office)
  • Landlord should receive a copy of production records, fertilizer invoices and soil tests when they are taken each year to make decisions about land productivity and maintenance

Refer to the webinar for specific recommendations and best practices. More information is included about how to handle the cost of seeding cover crops, whether to reduce the rent to share the costs and other considerations.

Here are links to a few resources that Charles mentioned during the webinar.

CharlesWatch the archived version of the webinar now! There is great information for landlords, tenants and anyone who works in the industry.

Julie Winter

Carrot vs Stick – Are farmers ready to change?

In a recent article from Civil Eats, author Virginia Gewin, features a couple familiar Iowa faces and asks the tough question – As farm runoff in U.S. Waters hits crisis levels, are farmers ready to change?

Addressing our water quality challenges in Iowa and across the U.S. is a serious undertaking that to-date has primarily used the voluntary approach.  Using incentives or cost share (carrots), there has been slow adoption of conservation practices like cover crops and edge of field practices.  This is where the author poses the question of whether it’s time to impose the ‘stick’ method of regulation.

In the article Sarah Carlson, Practical Farmers of Iowa, discusses the innovative ways Iowa farmers are working with industry groups like Cargill, Pepsi, Unilever and more to implement cover crops through incentives and the challenges of providing a uniform message across sources to help producers successfully implement cover crops.  speaking_pfi-field-day-2016

ILF Farmer Partner, Nathan Anderson, shares how he transitioned cover crops in his area from a curiosity to a serious consideration among his farming neighbors.  “Farmers that I never thought would be asking me for cover crop advice are asking those questions,” said Anderson.

Be sure to check out the full article here! This story is part of a year-long series about the underreported agriculture stories in our rural communities.

Liz Juchems

Learn How to Add Cover Crops to Your Farm Lease: Watch the Webinar on May 16

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Watch the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on May 16 at 12:00 p.m. to learn more about how cover crops can be incorporated into a farm lease arrangement. Cover crops are an important tool to help reduce soil erosion and nutrient losses while also improving soil health.

On rented land, adding a conservation practice like cover crops involves the cooperation of both the landowner and tenant. Common questions arise in this situation, including who pays for the practice, how the agreement should be documented and long-term benefits to consider.

Charles Brown, Farm Management Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, will share best practices for adding cover crops to a farm lease arrangement. Don’t miss it!

DATE: Wednesday, May 16, 2018
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Log on as a guest shortly before 12:00 p.m.:

More information about this webinar is available at our website. If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website:

Julie Winter

Extending Crop Insurance Deadline for Cover Crop Termination

Due to late fall establishment of cover crops and the slow start to spring, Sarah Carlson with Practical Farmers of Iowa, has researched and shared three steps to extend the crop insurance deadline for cover crop termination. These steps will help producers address concerns of terminating the cover crops now while they are so small.

Step 1) Check your RMA termination deadline.



Step 2) Let your crop insurance agent know you’ll be requesting a deviation.

Step 3) Request a termination deviation from your county NRCS office.

For more information on completing each step, check out Sarah’s post here.

Wishing you a safe and happy planting – and cover crop termination season!

Liz Juchems



Warmer weather and spring rains = cover crop growth!

The warmer weather and recent rains have helped green up our lawns, landscaping and overwintering cover crops like winter cereal rye!

We’ve been tracking the growth in our two Conservation Learning Lab watersheds where cover crops were seeded last fall.  Check out the photos below to see just how much has changed since the snow melted in Story County in March.

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Story County Conservation Learning Lab, March 19-April 30, 2018

With more snow and slower warm up, the Floyd County cover crops are just starting to green up. They have likely doubled in size from when these photos were taken on April 27th.


Floyd County Conservation Learning Lab, April 27, 2018


Stay tuned for more updates on the Conservation Learning Lab project as we continue to monitor the performance of the cover crops and strip-tillage implementation in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Project wetland watershed.

Liz Juchems

Why Field Days Matter

Through our evaluation work since 2004, we have found that there is a relationship between attending field days, adopting conservation practices and influencing other farmers. We call this our Field Day Success Loop.



Iowa Learning Farms has learned the importance of taking a closer look at who among field day attendees is networking with other farmers and discussing conservation ideas. Since 2013, the number of farmers who attended field days and networked conservation ideas with other farmers continues to increase – from 65% in 2013 to 68% in 2017.

A follow-up question on our year-end evaluation asks “How successful were you?,” and asks if farmers were able to influence zero, one, or two or more people when they networked conservation ideas with other farmers. Of those attendees who networked in 2017, 60% reported that they were successful in influencing at least one other person.

We know that some farmers network about conservation ideas and others do not. Certain factors make respondents more likely to connect with others and network about conservation ideas. Those respondents who have more years of experience with cover crops and those who attend more field days are more likely to report networking conservation ideas. Particularly in 2017, respondents who farm a larger number of total acres were more likely to report networking conservation ideas.


Multiplier Effect

Field day attendees are networking with their peers, influencing farmers who did not attend the field day, thus creating a multiplier effect. In 2017, 68% of farmers who attended an ILF event said that they networked. As a result, farmers are extending influence to 55% more farmers than attended the event. That’s a $1.55 value for every dollar invested in ILF. Field days make sense!

Keep up to date on upcoming field days in your area by following us on Facebook and Twitter or visiting our events page.

Hope to see you at a 2018 Field Day!

Liz Juchems