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

Two Field Day Opportunities July 9th – Native Perennial Plantings and Cover Crops, Grazing and Soil Health!

The Iowa Learning Farms team is pulling a double header and hosting two events on Tuesday, July 9th. We’d love to have you join us!

Both include a complimentary meal, so RSVP today to help with the meal planning.

July 9, Native Perennial Planting Workshop
10:00am-12:00pm
Whiterock Conservancy Burr Oak Visitor’s Center
1436 IA-141
Coon Rapids, IA
Guthrie County
Partner: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Press Release
Flyer
RSVP: 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu

July 9, Cover Crop and Soil Health Field Day
5:30-7:30pm
Ray & Elaine Gaesser Farm
2507 Quince Ave
Corning, IA
Adams County
Partners: Soil Health Partnership, Adams County Farm Bureau, Iowa Corn, Iowa Soybean Association, National Wildlife Federation Cover Crop Champions Program
Press Release
Flyer
RSVP: 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu

Liz Juchems

Growing Interest in Native Perennial Plantings

ILFHeader(15-year)The Smeltzer Learning Farm near Otho provided a great backdrop for our first of three native perennial plantings Rapid Need and Response workshops we are hosting this summer. A group of local farmers, landowners, and urban residents enjoyed a beautiful evening discussing and sharing ideas of how to increase areas of native perennial plantings in row crop areas, along field edges and around homes.

The Rapid Need and Response format for the workshop had attendees up and working in groups to answer five questions related to the benefits of native perennial plantings, the challenges and barriers for adoption, knowledge gaps and what species they are nurturing on their properties.

Jacqueline Comito, Iowa Learning Farms Program Director, then facilitated the discussion alongside Emily Heaton, Assistant Professor of Agronomy, and Lisa Schulte-Moore, professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and associate director of the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University.

Through the discussion, the top three lessons I took home were:

  1. Native perennial plants can significantly reduce nutrient loss – both nitrogen and phosphorus – to improve water quality at a relatively low cost.
  2. Perennials are better than any structures we have engineered for water management due to their extensive root systems.
  3. Diversity if nature’s way of hedging its bets to have something growing in different weather conditions – drought, rain, cold, or hot.

There are two more opportunities to join the discussion coming up this summer. Be sure to RSVP to 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu — we hope to see you there!

June 18, Native Perennial Planting Workshop
5:30-7:30pm
Spirit Lake Community Center
1602 15th St
Spirit Lake, IA
Dickinson County
Partner: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

July 9, Native Perennial Planting Workshop
10:00am-12:00pm
Whiterock Conservancy Burr Oak Visitor’s Center
1436 IA-141
Coon Rapids, IA
Guthrie County
Partner: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Liz Juchems

Bioreactor Installation a Success

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The rain didn’t dampen the excitement of a new bioreactor being installed near Albert City last night. Olie and Lois Leimer were pleased to share their newest conservation practice on their farm with fellow farmers, landowners and contractors at our field day.

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Lois and Olie Leimer discussing their new bioreactor being installed behind them with Lee Gravel, Headwaters of the North Raccoon Watershed Coordinator.

The Leimers are long time implementers of conservation practices. They began using no-till many years ago in an effort to save on fuel and time. They have also added cover crops to their farm to reduce soil erosion and improve soil health and water quality.

“It’s a work in progress. We’re always looking for ways to improve our farm and our impact on water quality,” state Olie.

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Field day attendees were able to check out the bioreactor site and hear from Brian Heinsohn, owner of Heinsohn Digging & Tiling, who led the contractor installation team.

Leimer approached the local Natural Resources Conservation Service about two years ago to begin the process of installing the bioreactor.  Together with Lee Gravel, Headwaters of the North Raccoon Watershed Coordinator, and ISG in Storm Lake to design and construct the bioreactor, the finished edge of field practice will treat about 80 acres of drained row crop acres.

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Nearly completed bioreactor.

The actual installation process goes fairly quickly. The trench and control structures were installed on Monday and by Tuesday afternoon the woodchips were delivered. They would have finished on Tuesday, but the area was left open so attendees could view the trench and woodchips. In total there is about 3.5 feet of woodchips that will be covered by about one foot of soil. Once the soil is in place, a pollinator habitat mix will be seeded over the bioreactor.

The bioreactor will be monitored for how nitrate removal throughout the upcoming years as partners work to meet the goals of the Iowa Nutrient reduction strategy. If you are interested in installing a bioreactor on your farm you can contact Iowa Learning Farms or your local NRCS office.

Be sure to check out upcoming field days in your area by visit our events page!

Liz Juchems

Attend an Upcoming Field Day Near You!

ILFHeader(15-year)Mark your calendars and be sure to submit your RSVP for a field day near you this summer. We will be hosting more in July, August, and September – so stay tuned for more information later this summer.

June 11, Bioreactor Field Day
5:30-7:30pm
Hosted by Olie Leimer
1598 Highway 3
Albert City, IA
Buena Vista County
Partners: Land Improvement Contractors Association, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa Corn
Press Release
Flyer

June 13, Native Perennial Planting Workshop
5:30-7:30pm
Smeltzer Farm
2610 Nelson Ave
Otho, IA
Webster County
Partner: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Press Release
Flyer

June 18, Native Perennial Planting Workshop
5:30-7:30pm
Spirit Lake Community Center
1602 15th St
Spirit Lake, IA
Dickinson County
Partner: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Press Release
Flyer

July 9, Native Perennial Planting Workshop
10:00am-12:00pm
Whiterock Conservancy Burr Oak Visitor’s Center
1436 IA-141
Coon Rapids, IA
Guthrie County
Partner: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

 

Are you interested in hosting a field day? Contact Liz Juchems, ejuchems@iastate.edu or 515-294-5429 to get the planning started!

 

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

Do you have “cottage cheese” soil?

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It was a beautiful evening yesterday to spend learning about the benefits of cover crops and no-till at Rob Stout’s farm in Washington County.

Rob Stout talking to a group of people in a field with cover crops growing

Rob Stout discusses cover crops at the field day

“There’s a learning curve. You just need to step up your management a little bit,” Stout explained, when discussing implementing cover crops for the first time.

He went on to talk about the benefits he has seen on his farm: an increase in earthworms and microbes, erosion control, water quality benefits and improved soil health.

A close up of no-till residue with rye growing

Cover crops and no-till on one of Rob Stout’s fields

“Rye is my go-to – I like it best,” said Stout, “Where we have the rye we don’t have any winter annual weeds. There’s no Marestail on any of these fields with the cover crop.”

Hands holding a clump of soil with green rye growing over a shovel

Soil structure under the cover crops

Attendees also heard from Jason Steele from the NRCS. Steele described the soil health benefits of implementing no-till or cover crops.

“If it looks like cottage cheese or Grape Nuts cereal, that’s what we want our soil to look like,” Steele said, “We want that granular structure. We don’t want it looking like concrete – if you do too much tillage it starts to look like concrete.”

Steele went on to say that despite the very wet fall we had last year, there were no ruts visible in Stout’s fields due to the fact that the fields were not tilled. The combination of no-till and cover crops reduced compaction and kept the top two inches of soil light and fluffy, with good soil structure and infiltration and the most biological activity.

Rounding out the program were Liz Juchems from Iowa Learning Farms, who shared research updates; Tony Maxwell from the NRCS, who talked about cost share; and Matt McAndrew and Paul Brandt from MB Water, who discussed testing water quality in tile drains.

Check out the events page of our website to find out about upcoming field days and workshops in your area!

Hilary Pierce