Cover Crop Crop Insurance Demonstration Project

This article was originally published on Clean Water Iowa’s website.

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Crop insurance is an integral part of the farm safety net that provides protection for farmers after bad weather impacts their crops. Cover crops can help prevent erosion and improve water quality and soil health; among other benefits.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and partners worked with the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) to establish a 3 year demonstration project aimed at expanding usage of cover crops in Iowa.

Through this project IDALS will provide $5/acre for cover crops to eligible applicants. Funding will be provided through RMA as an additional insurance premium discount through normal crop insurance processes. The new premium reduction will be available for fall-planted cover crops with a spring-planted cash crop. Some policies may be excluded, such as Whole-Farm Revenue Protection or those covered through written agreements. Participating farmers must follow all existing good farming practices required by their policy and work with their insurance agent to maintain eligibility.

Sign up is currently open until 5:00 pm on January 15, 2018, for farmers and landowners to certify cover crop acres for the program. Sign up to begin the application process. Please note that cover crop acres currently enrolled in state and/or federal programs are not eligible for this program.

For more information, please see the Program Rules, Frequently Asked Questions, or contact IDALS.

Julie Whitson

On-the-Ground Experience with Cover Crops

“What’s building organic matter worth to you?”

For Prairie City, IA farmer Gordon Wassenaar and tenant farmer Will Cannon, it’s worth using no-till and cover crops on every single one of their 1300 acres of cropland.  In a field day hosted by Iowa Learning Farms, Jasper Co. NRCS and SWCD, Wassenaar and Cannon shared their perspectives on cover crops and how they can be very successfully integrated into corn and soybean cropping systems.

Wassenaar, who has farmed for over 50 years, stated that he first got into cover crops for the purpose of protecting the soil from erosion. He started with cereal rye, broadcast seeded from an airplane.

As time has gone on, Wassenaar’s reasons for using cover crops have evolved from simply erosion control, to improving the structure and functioning of the soil — raising soil organic matter, aggregate stability, and water holding capacity. Cannon commented that on top of that, another big benefit is feeding the biodiversity of the soil, like the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, all while growing a healthy crop.

Timing and seed-soil contact are two big factors with establishing successful cover crop stands, and it’s a balancing act between the two. Aerial broadcast seeding (or interseeding with a high clearance vehicle) allows for a larger window of time for fall growth, while drilling provides greater seed-soil contact. Today, Wassenaar and Cannon have moved to drilling all of their cover crops, ideally getting them in the ground 24 hours or less behind the combine.

When asked about the financial considerations of cover crops, Cannon responded, “We’ve got to be willing to be a little creative and inventive to make it work.”  And they certainly are.

Cannon outlined several approaches they are taking to minimize costs and improve efficiencies in their operation:

  1. Shop around for cover crop seed.
    Compare prices with different cover crop seed houses in order to get the best bang for your buck. Wassenaar and Cannon are even considering growing their own cover crop seed down the road.
  2. Consider your seeding techniques.
    Aerial broadcast seeding and custom planting carry a significant cost.  Cannon explained that they have moved to seeding all of their acres now with a drill, which has provided greater seed-soil contact, and thus improved the seeding efficiency in terms of the number of seeds that actually grow (they’ve subsequently optimized/reduced seeding rates accordingly).  They are also saving dollars through the use of a smaller 120hp tractor and a cover crop drill that was bought used.
  3. There are a lot of good programs out there that can help.
    Take a look at the conservation programs and personnel on the federal, state, and local levels that can help out.

With years of experience implementing conservation practices of no-till and cover crops, Wassenaar reflected on how much the technology advances make conservation readily doable today.

“Back in the day, we plowed because we didn’t have planters that could plant into high residue. The equipment is so good today, that now we can plant into just about any residue.  … With cover crops out there, it’s almost like planting onto a mattress.”

Wassenaar is clearly passionate about conservation, and left field day attendees with the following thoughts:

“I don’t know any other way you can farm and save your soil than with no-till and cover crops.  … I’m convinced that if Iowans take care of their soil, the soil will take care of Iowa.”

Ann Staudt

Cover Crops & Risk Management Field Days Set for Nov. 13 and Nov. 21

In addition to our cover crop field day series, be sure to attend one of the upcoming cover crops and risk management field days!

 

Join farmer hosts, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and conservation partners for an upcoming Cover Crops and Risk Management Field Day on Monday, November 13, near Corning or Tuesday, November 21, in Slater. These events will highlight the benefits of cover crops and discuss potential for ideas to incentivize cover crops through crop insurance. Speakers will also include Sarah Carlson of Practical Farmers of Iowa.  

 

Monday, November 13, Ray Gaesser Farm
2507 Quince Ave, Corning, Iowa. 
Lunch provided at noon, followed by program at 12:30. Rain or shine. 
Click here for more details and to RSVP 

 

Tuesday, November 21, Aaron Lehman Farm
Starts at Nelson Park Cabin, 305 Benton St., Slater, Iowa
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Lunch provided at noon, followed by program at 12:30. Rain or shine.   
Click here for more details and to RSVP 

 

Sponsors include Iowa Farmers Union, Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Environmental Council and Iowa Soybean Association. Thanks to additional support from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

RSVP requested for lunch (but not required). Contact Ann with questions, at robinson@iaenvironment.org or 515-244-1194, ext. 211.

Post-Harvest Field Day Series Heading Your Way!

As the crop year is coming to an end, cover crop season 2017 is starting to take root! This fall Iowa Learning Farms is co-sponsoring nine cover crop workshops.  Be sure to mark your calendars and plan to attend one near you.

IowamapFieldDays(Nov)

November 7, Gordon Wassenaar Cover Crop Field Day
3:30-5:30pm

8718 West 109th St S
Prairie City, IA
Jasper County
Press Release
Flyer
RSVP to Jasper SWCD:641-792-4116 Ext. 3 or jessica.rutter@ia.nacdnet.net

November 8, Jim Lindaman Cover Crop and Soil Conservation Field Day
12:00-2:00pm

16969 310th St
Aplington, IA
Butler County
Press Release
Flyer
RSVP to 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu

November 15, Lucas Bayer Cover Crop Field Day
4:00-6:00pm

2310 430th Ave
Guernsey, IA
Poweshiek County
Press Release
Flyer
RSVP to 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu

November 16, Ben and Andy Johnson Cover Crop and Strip-Tillage Field Day
10:00am-12:00pm
1170 Hwy 218
Floyd, IA
Floyd County
Press Release
Flyer
RSVP to 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu

November 21, Jacob Groth Cover Crop Field Day
12:30-2:30pm
Winneshiek County NRCS Office
2296 Oil Well Rd
Decorah, IA
Winneshiek County
RSVP to 563-382-8777 ext 3 or Matt.Frana@ia.nacdnet.net

November 28, Walnut Creek Watershed Cover Crop Field Day
TBD
Montgomery County

November 30, Conservation Learning Lab Cover Crop Field Day
5:30-7:30pm

Roland Area Community Center
208 Main St
Roland, IA
Story County
RSVP to 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu

December 6, Elk Run Watershed Cover Crop and Soil Health Workshop
TBD
Sac County

December 13, Cover Crop Workshop
TBD
East Pottawattamie County

Liz Juchems

Rock Your Watershed! Game Brings an Element of Fun to Nutrient Reduction Strategy Goals

Think you’re smarter than the average 5th grader? Test your knowledge of how land management choices affect the environment and agricultural profits with the Water Rocks! Rock Your Watershed! game, 2.0 version! New and improved, this interactive, online game now offers even more land management choices to players as they design their own agricultural waterfront property.

The Rock Your Watershed! game takes complex issues of nutrient transport, soil erosion, and habitat changes and translates them into an online game where players can see how every choice in land management has both economic and environmental impacts. In essence, it’s like the Nutrient Reduction Strategy in a game!

In the new version, players have the option of adding livestock, urban development, and witnessing how land management choices affect biodiversity.  Using scientific data that correlates how land management choices impact soil erosion, nutrient transport, and wildlife habitat, as well as the impact of precipitation variability, players seek to obtain a high score by achieving an optimal balance between profit, nutrient use, sediment loss, and biodiversity.

new rock your watershed game screen shot

Will you plant row crops right up to the river shoreline? Do you want livestock on part of your land? Will you include a wetland to help filter nutrients? What about including cover crops? Perhaps you will want to include housing or recreational lands. Each choice you make will have an environmental impact as well as a financial cost. You may find yourself wanting to play over and over again in an attempt to beat your previous score. No problem! Revise your previous choices by going back and simply changing one piece of land at a time until you see desired results!

Fun for youth and adults alike, this game can be used to learn about how various land management choices, combined with Mother Nature’s unpredictability, affect both the environment and one’s pocketbook.

Brandy Case Haub

Got a Gully? Fix It, Don’t Disc It.

Iowa NRCS has launched a new campaign, “Fix It, Don’t Disc it” to help inform Iowa farmers about a conservation compliance change that requires treating ephemeral gully erosion on highly erodible land (HEL).  Continue reading for their recent newsletter article regarding the rule change.

If you discover areas of ephemeral gully erosion this fall, visit your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office before discing any areas of highly erodible fields.  Iowa famers who participate in USDA programs will now be required to provide additional control of ephemeral gully erosion on their highly erodible fields after recent changes in conservation compliance requirements, State Conservationist Kurt Simon said.

 

This change is in response to a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report comparing compliance review procedures in several states. OIG recommended modifications to NRCS’ compliance review procedures to provide more consistency across the nation. Thus, Iowa NRCS has made compliance review procedure adjustments that might impact farmers.

Since the passage of the 1985 Farm Bill, farmers have been required to control erosion on fields that are classified as highly erodible. Each spring, NRCS conducts compliance reviews on a random selection of highly erodible fields to determine if erosion has been adequately controlled. A non-compliance ruling can affect benefits that farmers receive from USDA agencies in a number of ways—from Conservation Reserve program payments to Price Loss Coverage.

“Affected farmers will need to consider installing additional conservation practices to better control ephemeral gully erosion,” Simon said.

Typical practices used to control ephemeral gullies include no-till farming, cover crops, grassed waterways, and terraces. Simon said NRCS employees will work closely with farmers to help them meet erosion-control requirements.

 

“We are available to help farmers identify ephemeral erosion in their fields or where it may occur in the future, and assist them with applying the conservation practices that best fit their farming operations,” he said.

If erosion control issues are identified during compliance reviews, producers may be given time to make adjustments and install needed conservation practices. He said Iowa NRCS offers financial assistance to help farmers install or implement conservation practices across the state. Landowners can sign up for voluntary Farm Bill conservation programs on a continual basis.

When in doubt, visit your local NRCS office before performing any tillage that is not part of your conservation plan on any land classified as HEL. For more information, visit NRCS at your local USDA Service Center.

Getting Started with Rotational Grazing

Considering the transition to rotational grazing?  Wondering where exactly to start?  Ruminate on the following tips and words of wisdom for getting started with rotational grazing, shared at an Iowa Learning Farms Whiterock Conservancy joint field day this past week.

1.  Build the system to what you can afford.
Infrastructure considerations up front include fencing, water lines, tank/waterer system, and mineral feeder.

2.  Start with a system that’s manageable for you.
Pat Corey, NRCS (tenant at Whiterock/rotational grazing guru) recommends starting with a 5-6 paddock system, in which the cattle are moved once per week. That gives each paddock a 30 day rest period before the cattle return.

3.  Scale up when you’re ready. Each initial paddock can be divided in half, resulting in a 10-12 paddock system, in which the cattle are moved every 4 days.

4.  Be aware of herbicide residuals.
Always read and follow label directions, and be aware of grazing restrictions – some herbicides have up to an 18 month residual.

5.  Integrate cover crops for an additional spring food source.
Let the rye grow big enough in the spring so there is good root structure in place to balance out compaction from the livestock. At Whiterock, cattle are out on the rye from approximately April 1 until May 15, providing an excellent supplemental food source in the spring months.

6.  Try to maximize flexibility in the system! 
It’s all a learning process. Planning up front for the desired infrastructure, combined with active on-the-ground management, can yield a robust rotational grazing system, resulting in improved pasture productivity, reduced inputs, increased wildlife, benefits to soil health and water quality, and healthier herds overall.

Thanks to Pat Corey (NRCS), Darwin Pierce and Rob Davis (Whiterock Conservancy) for sharing their insights on rotational grazing!  To learn more, check out the following resources:

Ann Staudt