New online tool helps farmers assess value of cover crops

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, in partnership with Practical Farmers of Iowa, has launched a new Ag Decision Maker tool on their website to help crop and livestock farmers assess the economics of cover crops in their operations.20150428_092027

The Economics of Cover Crops tool consists of three in-depth budgeting worksheets designed to help farmers analyze the costs and benefits of cover crops – and paths to profitability – in their row crop operations with or without the integration of livestock:

  • Cover Crops Budget looks at the economics of cover crops in systems without grazing or harvesting
  • Grazing Cover Crops Budget estimates the costs and benefits with grazing or harvesting for feed
  • Grazing Cover Crops Results uses farmers’ farm data to calculate the actual economic value of grazing or harvesting cover crops from the prior year

The unique three-in-one tool was developed to let farmers see the potential added value they could gain when cover crops are used for forage. Recent Practical Farmers of Iowa on farm research has found that, when properly managed, grazing cover crops can result in sizeable profits within the first year.

The worksheets are available online and were created with funding by Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Water Quality Initiative.

Help available to use the tool

To ensure farmers feel confident using the new tool, Meghan Filbert, Livestock Coordinator with Practical Farmers of Iowa, is available to help farmers gets started. Contact her at (515) 232-5661 or meghan@practicalfarmers.org with questions or to request assistance working with the tool.

Liz Juchems

 

From the Archives: Conservation Chat Podcast with Farmer Nathan Anderson

The Conservation Chat podcast is taking a break for the next few months, but I would like to take you back through our archives on a tour of the “Best of the Conservation Chat Podcast.” There are 38 great podcast episodes to choose from – what’s your favorite?

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This month, take some time out to listen to Conservation Chat Episode 28 with Cherokee County farmer Nathan Anderson. Nathan’s interview with host Jacqueline Comito sheds light on a common problem that many young Iowa farmers are facing: how to make the transition back onto the farm.

“It takes people like my dad who are willing to let somebody come back into the farming operation,” Nathan said of his father. He recognizes that his father made sacrifices, including “[forgoing] some of that income, and also [letting] me try new things that maybe he doesn’t agree with or doesn’t know about.”

Livestock is an early entry point for the next generation to begin or return to the farm. Nathan raises a cow-calf herd with his father and was given the opportunity to try new practices including rotational grazing, cover crops, increasing herd size and changing herd genetics to favor cattle that could utilize certain pasture resources. Nathan has fire in his belly for conservation and farming, but he also recognizes that it’s important to be patient.

“This farming world that we work in, there are a lot of things that we might want to do and we can’t have them all right now,” Nathan commented. “It’s a practice of patience. Patience is active. If you’re being patient, you have to work at it.”

Listen to the podcast episode now! Learn more about Iowa Learning Farms’ Emerging Farmer Project and consider attending our upcoming Emerging Farmer Soil Health and Grazing Workshop  on March 15 in Creston!

Julie Winter

Webinar Recap: Whiterock Conservancy Shares Innovative Pasture Management Ideas

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Did you miss our webinar last week with Rob Davis of the Whiterock Conservancy? We experienced technical difficulties on the day of the webinar; however, our archived version of the webinar includes better quality audio and some video of our presenter. Watch the webinar here!

Webinar1Whiterock Conservancy is a non-profit land trust of 5,500 acres located near Coon Rapids along the Middle Raccoon River. Most people may not realize that Whiterock is Iowa’s third largest recreation area in the state. In addition to its conventional cropping and pasture systems, visitors to Whiterock can explore prairies, pasture, woodlands and savannas through a network of trails.

Whiterock incorporates recreation into its pasture system by offering campgrounds and trails that are suited for hiking, mountain biking and equestrian use. They also host guided walks, tractor rides and Sunday drives through pastures with gators and ATVs.

For its 395 acres of permanent pasture land and 125 acres of savanna, Whiterock uses a variety of approaches to management including rotational grazing, management intensive grazing and conservation grazing.

Whiterock has also sectioned the pasture into 640 feet wide fencing alleyways, added filter strips around the ponds and installed a water line with a stub outs every 150 feet. Rob even considers cattle as a “tool” that can help control and trample dominant and invasive species like thistle.

One interesting approach Rob has tried is diversifying Whiterock’s pasture by mixing both warm- and cool-season species.

“We do have a couple demonstration areas where we’ve done a warm-season prairie seeding on a couple of our pastures. Most of those were flops. Those were seeded in 2009 and for whatever reason, whatever was seeded in 2009 on a couple of different seedings did not turn out well. But, when we grazed that in the end of May 2014, grazed that cool-season nearly to the ground, left two inch stubble, the warm-season community popped, even five years after that original seeding.”

Rob says that although he gets some funny looks when he pitched the idea of warm- and cool season pastures, he’s found a way to manage it at Whiterock. He uses small-scale prescribed burns, overseeds the warm-season in February or March and then encourages the warm-season community to grow by allowing high-density grazing over a period of days.

webinar5Learn about how Rob Davis manages his pasture in this webinar – there are many other unique things that Whiterock is doing that may be of interest to your operation. Better yet, head out to Whiterock to see it for yoursef! Watch the archived version of the webinar here.

Julie Winter

Iowa Learning Farms Webinar to Discuss Pasture Conservation and Grazing

WebinarWhiterock Conservancy is a non-profit land trust of 5,500 acres located near Coon Rapids along the Middle Raccoon River. The Conservancy demonstrates a variety of sustainable agricultural practices that build soil health. Rob Davis, Conservation Lands Manager with Whiterock Conservancy, will discuss pasture conservation and grazing for soil, livestock and wildlife benefits during the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, January 17 at 12:00 noon.

DATE: Wednesday, January 17, 2018
TIME: 12:00 noon
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Log on as a guest shortly before 12:00 p.m.:
https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/

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: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Julie Winter

Iowa Learning Farms Webinar: Talking Grazing with Joe Sellers

web3Did you miss our webinar with Joe Sellers, Iowa State University Extension Beef Field Specialist, this week? You’re in luck because we archive all of our webinars on our website!

Tune into the webinar to learn more about:

  • Results from long-term grazing studies on the ISU McNay Research Farm in Chariton
  • How pasture helps store more carbon and organic matter than it loses
  • How to manage grass throughout the growing season and your forage supply year-round
  • How to improve grazing through fertility maintenance and grazing efficiency
  • Why water placement is critical and can help with pasture utilization and manure distribution
  • Resources you can use to learn more, including an updated “Pasture Management Guide,” workshops, the Iowa Forage and Grasslands Conference and more in-depth classes such as the Greenhorn Grazing Class and the Iowa Certified Graziers Class

A few great quotes from Joe:

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“As graziers, we are really managers of plant leaf area and root carbohydrate reserves.”

“Management-intensive grazing is not intensive grazing!”

 

 

 

Tune into the webinar to learn more!

Julie Whitson

October 18 Webinar to Discuss Management-Intensive Grazing and Grasslands

Pasture and forage acres are critical to soil conservation and the profitability of beef cattle operations. Grab your lunch and learn from Joe Sellers, Beef Field Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Sellers will discuss practices that improve grazing effectiveness and how management-intensive grazing can work on Iowa farms. He will also discuss where opportunities exist to expand grasslands in Iowa.

DATE: Wednesday, October 18, 2017
TIME: 12:00 noon
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Log on as a guest shortly before 12:00 p.m.:
https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/

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: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars

Julie Whitson

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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