Finding the right seeding method – which option is best for you?

ILFHeaderJust ask Clayton County farmers Mark Glawe, Dan Keehner and Brian Keehner! Each have explored different seeding methods and shared their tips for successful cover crop management at our field day on November 29th in Luana. Although their soil types, crop rotations and seeding method vary, they share similar goals for using cover crops in their operations – improved soil health and reduced nutrient losses.

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Left to Right: Farmer Panelists Dan Keehner, Brian Keehner, Mark Glawe, and Eric Palas, Clayton County SWCD Project Coordinator

Mark Glawe began using cover crops in his no-till system near Elkport in 2006 to address soil erosion concerns on his steep slopes. In early September, he seeded about 2/3 of his acres aerially with oats, rye, radishes and rapeseed. These acres are grazed by his cattle herd following harvest and again in the spring. This year, Mark turned his cattle out in October and estimates his additional forage value at $35/acre. In addition to the aerially seeded acres, Mark’s son follows the combine on the remaining acres to drill cereal rye to keep the steep slopes covered between crop seasons.


Dan Keehner first started with aerially seeded cover crops in 2013 on his ground near Monona. Noting disappointment with the consistency of the stand, he hired the cereal rye cover crop to be drilled after harvest in 2014. Similar to this fall, harvest was delayed and the drilling wasn’t completed until mid-November. With limited fall growth but more consistent stand, Dan decided to set up his own cover crop seeding rig for 2015.

Using his vertical tillage implement, Dan mounted an air seeder to seed the cover crop himself following harvest and has covered all of his acres with a cover crop since 2016. He uses both cereal rye and winter wheat to keep the ground covered until planting of his cash crop in the spring.

“I love seeing one crop (cover crop) go down and another (corn/soybeans) come up. You know when you get the rains, that soil is protected,” stated Dan.


Similar to his cousin, Brian Keehner has tried multiple seeding methods but wasn’t satisfied with the results. Through custom innovation, and discussion with a cover crop user in Indiana, Brian has modified his combine with an air delivery system on his corn and soybean heads to seed the cover crops while harvesting. This method fits the needs of his operation by saving time, labor and fuel by combining passes. His next goal for the system is to increase his seed carrying compacity to reduce the number of refill stops.

Regardless of how they seeded their cover crops, all three producers reported 0.5-1.2% increases in their soil organic matter over a five year time-frame. The combination of no-till and cover crops has led to the retention and building of soil organic matter on their lands. The building of organic matter helps improve water holding capacity and retention of soil micro-nutrients needed for crop production. With healthier soils, we have healthier crops and water!

Liz Juchems

A Legacy of Conservation

Conservation is a legacy that runs generations deep with the Whitaker family. Go back 165 years, and there were Whitakers farming this same ground, now recognized as a Heritage Farm, in southeast Iowa.

As nearly 50 farmers and landowners gathered in Hillsboro earlier this week for a conservation field day, area farmer Clark Whitaker shared the importance of conservation to the family over the years, and how that has carried through to their farming operation today. His father had been a district conservationist with the Soil Conservation Service in the 1970s, brother John has been actively involved with conservation through USDA-FSA and Conservation Districts of Iowa, and today Clark is the “boots on the ground” guy making conservation happen on their land.

Clark commented, “The land needs to be cared for and maintained.  Part of that care is trying to keep the soil on the farm instead of road ditches and waterways.”

Back in the 1970s, that meant installing broadbase terraces. In the 1980s, the Whitakers’ conservation focus transitioned to no-till. Today, the Whitakers’ approach to conservation includes variable rate technology, prescription planting, cover crops, and they have also recently installed a saturated buffer to help reduce nitrate levels in drainage water.

Cover crops were the main focus at the Hillsboro field day, where Clark shared that his goals in using cover crops are two-fold: keeping the soil in place, while also raising levels of organic matter in their soils. He has experimented with cereal rye, oats, and radishes thus far.

For best results with cover crops, Clark made several recommendations to the group based on his experience in southeast Iowa:

To learn more about cover crops and how to integrate them into your farming operation, check out Cover Crop Videos and Cover Crop Resources on the Iowa Learning Farms website.

Ann Staudt

This field day was a partnership of Iowa Learning Farms, Lower Skunk Water Quality and Soil Health Initiative, and Henry County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Cover Crops Served with a Side of Comedy

If you enjoy cover crops with a side of comedy, then you missed out on a good one.

The Iowa Learning Farms, along with Iowa Seed Corn Cover Crop InitiativeIowa Corn, and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, hosted a cover crop and conservation tillage field day at the Kossuth County Museum in Algona.

Kossuth County farmers Matt and Nancy Bormann share their experience with cover crops.

Liz Juchems kicked things off with talk of cover crops, species selection and the farmer’s best friend, the Lumbricus terrestris or earthworm. “We have found a 40% increase in earthworm middens in fields with cover crops,” stated Juchems. Turns out that cover crops are the earthworms best friend.

Doug Adams, a farmer and NRCS Soil Conservation Technician gave a play-by-play of his progression from conventional tillage to strip-till and no-till with cover crops.

Kossuth County farmers Matt and Nancy Bormann gave a great presentation on their farming history and offered some real gems. 

Of course, Matt did offer some more conventional advice. “Switching to strip-till helped us cut out a quarter million in equipment. My tip is to try something different on 40 acres…you have to get out of your comfort zone.”

Comedy is clearly not out of Matt’s comfort zone because he had the whole room laughing.

Reminder: If you missed this field day, be sure to tune in to our webinar December 12th at Noon to learn how #NotillB4Beans and #CoverYourBeans can help save time and money.

~Nathan Stevenson

 

Cows and Cover Crops – A Perfect Pair!

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AreSwanson Cattle_Cover Crop2 you interested in grazing cover crops?

Here are some helpful ideas shared by Don Swanson, Henry County Farmer, and Patrick Wall, ISU Extension and Outreach Livestock Specialist, at our field day near Agency on November 20th hosted by the Swanson Farm Partnership on their Heritage Farm.

  • Being organized and ready when the conditions are right to get it seeded in the fall.
  • Use the Pluck Test for turning out cattle
    • If you pull on the rye and the blade breaks free while the roots stay in the ground you can turn the cattle out. If the roots come with, best to wait.
  • Establish a good fence with high-tensile wire and flex posts
  • Cover crops add forage diversity for dry years when pastures and hay are in short supply
  • Fall Grazing  – oats
    • Grows quickly following early season harvest of silage, seed corn or early maturing soybeans, will winter kill
  • Spring Grazing – cereal rye
    • Winter hardy and will generate majority of biomass in the spring
  • Start small – corn acres going to soybeans in the spring #CoverYourBeans

“Getting an extra 30 days of grazing in the spring on cover crops is part of the plan to make cover crops work economically when cost share is done,” stated Don.

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For more tips about grazing cover crops, visit our resources page and sign up to attend a Fall Grazing Cover Crop Tour near you!

Liz Juchems

No-till and cover crops working together in central Iowa

ILFHeaderCover crops are growing in popularity across the state as a way to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality and soil health. In central Iowa, where fall tillage is common, there has also been increasing interest in no-till — especially no-till soybeans thanks to innovative farmers like Mike Helland leading by example in Story County.

IMG_0065Mike hosted a field day last Thursday near Huxley to share his experiences using cover crops in his operation. While there was significant interest in the benefits of cover crops, including a credit on crop insurance, the majority of the questions and discussion was around using no-till in central Iowa where the soils tend to be heavier and wetter than other soil regions.

Mike began no-tilling soybeans in 1993 after attending the Farm Progress Show the year before. That first year the soybeans yielded better than the other fields so he decided to try it again the next year. After similar results, he began no-tilling all his soybeans in 1995.

“Tillage is one of the root causes of compaction,” stated Helland. “This year, the no-till soybean ground was holding up our equipment instead of sinking in like some of our neighbors. I love planting no-till beans – it’s such a smooth ride!”

As we headed back inside, Mike was joined by fellow farmers Aaron Lehman and Mark Kenney on a panel to discuss how they are using cover crops in their conventional, organic and seed corn operations, respectively.

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Left to right: Aaron Lehman, Mike Helland, and Mark Kenney

 “I thought there’s got to be something better than seeing the fields black, allowing soil to wash and blow away following seed corn harvest,” commented Kenney. “So we started seeding oats after harvest to protect our Century Farm. There is no natural system that leaves the soil black, so his is our effort to keep the soil protected!”

IMG_1800As the panel wrapped up, Helland shared this great piece of advice, “Everyone should try cover crops on 10 acres. It doesn’t cost much and who knows – you might like it!”

We have a few more field days still on the schedule, visit our events page to find one near you and RSVP today!

If you missed this field day, be sure to tune in to our webinar December 12th at Noon to learn how #NotillB4Beans and #CoverYourBeans can help save time and money.

Liz Juchems

 

The field day was hosted by Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Farmers Union, the Soil Health Partnership, the Iowa Seed Association, the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Clean Water Initiative, Iowa Corn, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and Iowa Learning Farms.

Cover Crops on Tap at Nick Meier Field Day

ILFHeaderAs the weather gets colder and the days grow shorter, evening cover crop field days move indoors. Fortunately, the indoor atmosphere was perfect for an informal cover crop discussion.

The Nick Meier Field Day was hosted at Single Speed Brewery in Waterloo where attendees enjoyed several different varieties of flat bread pizza made from local ingredients. After dinner, the conversations turned toward cover crops, crop insurance, herbicide planning, soil health, earthworms and water sampling.

“Sampling your water is not something to be afraid of. It’s something to understand.” Theo Gunther, Iowa Soybean Association

There was particular interest in the earthworm study being done by the Iowa Learning Farms. Jamie Benning led the discussion and had some updates to share about the study.“Preliminary data determined that there was a 40% increase in earthworm middens found in fields with a cover crop versus without cover crops.”  Jamie Benning, Extension Water Quality Program Manager

The evening concluded with an excellent farmer panel where they discussed their experience using cover crops, planting into cover crops and tips for termination.

The field day was hosted by Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Farmers Union, the Soil Health Partnership, the Iowa Seed Association, the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Clean Water Initiative, Iowa Corn, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and Iowa Learning Farms.

If you missed the field day and are interested in attending one this month, visit our events page to find one near you and RSVP today!

 

~Nathan

Dig a little, learn a lot!

ILFHeaderAt our field day yesterday with Lake Geode Watershed, hosted by Southeastern Community College, we explored what is happening beneath the surface in a no-till, cover crop system. As a system, these practices provide many benefits including: increases in water infiltration, earthworm population, organic matter, water storage – all while decreasing soil erosion, nutrient losses as well as time and fuel not spent on tillage!

Here are a few highlights from the field day:

“One of your best tools as a farmer or landowner is your shovel,” stated Jason Steele Area Resource Soil Scientist for USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Use it to take a look at your soil. Are there earthworms? Is there compaction? Cover crops added to no-till can help feed the worms and break up that compaction”

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Thom Miller, Henry County Farmer – 
“My no-till system is working better now than when I started. I credit that to the combination of no-till and cover crops working together and over the last five years the results have been amazing.”

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“I have a tile system that ran nearly all summer due to improved infiltration and soil health through my no-till, cover crop and cattle grazing system.”

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“I plant shorter season corn and soybeans since I have them custom planted and harvested. A benefit of choosing those varieties means I can get my cover crop seeded earlier and take advantage of the early fall weather to make sure I get a good stand.”

We have seven more field days coming up this month! Visit our events page to find one near you and RSVP today!

Liz Juchems