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.


“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!


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


Field days offer opportunity to learn from fellow farmers and landowners

ILFHeaderLearning the best management practices for implementing conservation from fellow farmers and landowners has been a key component for Iowa Learning Farms field days and workshops for the past fifteen years. That continued last night in Grundy Center with two local farmers sitting down for a Q&A session with attendees.

“We can save each other headaches when we learn from each other,” stated Dale Launstein. He and fellow Grundy County Farmer Fred Abels are using cover crops and strip-till on their farms and have experimented with a variety of seeding methods and termination times to find what works best for their operations.


“We had some rye spread with the fertilizer, but the seed was very uneven. Since then I have been using my own (drill) system to get it in seeded right after harvest to get some soil on top of the seed and improving the rye stand,” shared Abels.

Launstein had a similar experience and now prefers to get the rye seed in the ground as soon as possible ahead of soybeans. “It may not grow much in the fall, but I’m after the spring growth to help with weed suppression. I’m getting 75-80 bu/ac soybeans – whole farm average – and the rye is not affecting that. I can make money adding the rye ahead of soybeans as I am able to cut out a pass in the spring and reduce my herbicide expenses.”

The field day also highlighted soil health and water quality benefits of cover crops with presentations from Ann Staudt, Iowa Learning Farms, and Kay Stefanik, Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

IMG_0095As part of an Iowa Learning Farms cover crop research project, Staudt is leading the exploration of common earthworm populations as an indication of soil health.

“On the research farm, our team measured a 30% increase in earthworm populations when cover crops were grown compared to the no cover crop sites right next to them. That rye is like an all you can eat buffet of fresh food for these friends of the farmer, the fisherman and the gardener!” commented Staudt.

Visit our website for more information on cover crops and consider attending one of remaining 2019 cover crops events.


December 5: Cover Crop Workshop

Luana Savings Bank Community Center
100 Harvest Drive
Luana, IA
Partners: Clayton County SWCD, NRCS, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
Press Release

December 11: Cover Crop Workshop

Dordt University Agriculture Stewardship Center
3648 US 75 Ave
Sioux Center, IA
Partners: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, West Branch of the Floyd River Watershed Project
Press Release


Liz Juchems

Saving Time (and money) with Conservation

ILFHeader(15-year)On this month’s episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito catches up with Ben and Andy Johnson, cover crop farmers in the Conservation Learning Labs(CLL) project in Floyd County. Ben was previously featured on the chat in 2017 as the CLL was completing the first year. Now three years in, they are pleased with benefits of cover crops in their no-till and strip-till system and plan to continue using them on as many acres as they can get seeded.

Ben and AndyThe Johnsons farm together raising corn and soybeans and managing a ewe and feeder lamb herd. With time as a limiting factor, they started using no-till 15 years ago and began strip-tilling their corn acres for over ten years. They have noticed significant changes in increased infiltration of heavy rains and reduced soil erosion, compared to neighbors who use more intensive tillage practices.

“We’re more competitive because of the conservation. There are a lot of farmers in our area that were attending meetings last year on ‘You didn’t get your tillage done, what are you going to do?’. We were planting as guys were trying to do tillage this spring,” stated Johnson. “We started planing on Easter this year (around April 21st). Our fields were fit then and we started planting corn and soybeans – even with our limited manpower because we’re not running a field cultivator.”

In addition to soil and water quality benefits, the labor and time savings make the Johnsons true supporters of no-till and strip-till.

“If it didn’t work, I wouldn’t do it. I’m just like everyone else. If I thought I could plow that field and have 20 bushels more corn, that’s probably what I would be doing,” noted Ben.

When asked what was meant by working, Andy responded “If I can save on time and labor and still have the same yields or better. I would rather be with my kids than pulling an implement through the field.”

Be sure to listen the rest of the chat to hear how about the other benefits they are experiencing and learn more about the CLL project.

Find the Conservation Chat on iTunes and subscribe today!

Liz Juchems 

The New Frontier of Farming


“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

ISU Research Focuses on Integrating Cover Crops for Grazing into Row Crop Enterprises


By: Doug Gass | South Skunk River Watershed Project Coordinator

On Wednesday, two Iowa State University Extension and Outreach professionals discussed the viability of incorporating cover crop grazing into row crop enterprises. Erika Lundy, Extension Beef Specialist, and Rebecca Vittetoe, Extension Field Agronomist, discussed the results of three studies and one producer survey on the effectiveness of grazing cattle in cover crop stands established in row crop fields.

To reach the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, it is important to explore as many cover crop benefits as possible. This includes assessing the viability of cover crops as a forage source for cattle operations.

CC_NovWebinarLundy and Vittetoe discussed spring and fall heifer grazing studies, along with one study looking at fall grazing of cow-calf pairs. Researchers in these studies sought to determine the quality of forage provided by cover crops, how grazing dates influence cover crop forage, and how grazing cattle impact soil organic matter and soil compaction in cover cropped fields. Data was collected from research fields in western, northwestern, and south-central Iowa.

P1060078_NovWebinarThe data collected thus far is promising. Indicating that cover crops offer high quality forage and more forage flexibility for cattle producers, resulting in “good weight gain” for the cattle grazing in cover crop fields. For example, the spring grazing study showed an approximate cost of $0.30 per pound of weight gained for cattle, which is economically comparable to cattle in drylot operations. Additionally, calves in the fall cow-calf grazing study displayed a significant weight gain advantage over drylot facility calves.

The presentation ended with a discussion of survey results from producers already grazing their cover crop fields. Producers emphasized the need for a clear and flexible grazing plan that accounts for yearly and seasonal weather variability. Other important considerations are how to get water to cattle, installing fences in the cover cropped fields, and the potential need for dry matter supplements to cover crop forage. Lundy also emphasized the importance of following pesticide labels when terminating cover crops to ensure compliance with grazing or crop rotation restrictions.

To learn more about this research, watch the full webinar here!

Join us next month, on December 18, when Adam Janke, Assistant Professor at Iowa State University, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “Back to By-products: Promises and opportunities for layering benefits of water-resource conservation to restore farmland wildlife in the Corn Belt”.

November 20 Webinar: ISU Research Focuses on Integrating Cover Crops for Grazing into Row Crop Enterprises


Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, November 20 at 12:00 p.m. about the research being done at Iowa State University on grazing cover crops.

P1060078_NovWebinarCover crops provide many benefits ranging from reducing soil erosion and building soil organic matter to nutrient cycling and scavenging. Another additional benefit they offer is as an additional forage resource. During this webinar, Erika Lundy, Extension Beef Specialist, and Rebecca Vittetoe, Extension Field Agronomist, will share what they’ve learned from the ongoing research at ISU looking at integrating cattle, crops, and cover crops. Lundy’s current extension and research programs are focused on beef cattle nutrition and forage management to improve profitability on the farm level. Vittetoe focuses on the agronomic side with field and forage crop production and integrated pest management with a special emphasis on plant pathology.

CC_NovWebinarFeed expenses continue to be half the cost of production of a beef cattle enterprise. If we are going to have cover crops growing across the state to protect our soil and waters, then adding cattle to graze those green forage acres is another opportunity to capitalize on the benefits that cover crops can provide us. Lundy and Vittetoe said, “One of our primary goals with this research was to answer the question ‘if we graze cover crops, do we still have the soil health benefits that we know we get from incorporating cover crops into row crop acres?’ With the results we are generating from this research, we think the answer is ‘yes!’”

A Certified Crop Adviser board approved continuing education unit (1 CEU: Crop Management) is available for those who are able to watch the live webinar. Information for submitting your CCA/CPAg/CPSS/CPSC number to earn the credit will be provided at the end of the presentation.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, November 20, 2019
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: visit and click the link to join the webinar

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:

Hilary Pierce