Labor Day often marks the end of summer, but for the Iowa Learning Farms team it’s the start of cover crops season! Last week we traveled across the state to seed our cover crop mixture project sites. The project began in 2013 with hand broadcasting seeding cover crops at six Iowa State University Research and Demonstration Farms. In 2016, we continued the project at four sites and this fall marked the fifth and final year of seeding.
As we traveled across the state, I began to wonder just how many miles I had walked seeding each row of the plots…
But first some background – to seed the research plots we prepared individually weighed seed packets to help achieve an even seeding rate of roughly one million seeds per acre. These are labeled, bundled and packaged by site to maximize efficiency in the field while seeding.
Once we arrive at the research farm, we carefully double check the map and add orange stakes to mark the first row of each plot. I then load up my nail apron with the packets for one of the plots and prepare to seed. A teammate holds the end of our tape measure and I grab a hold of the other end. I then tear open a corner of the packet and walk backwards shaking out the seed. Once the nail apron is empty, we check the map and move to the next plot.
Here’s a peek at seeding into corn at the Lewis Research Farm in southwest Iowa.
So how many miles did I cover walking backwards while seeding?
Each site had 16 cover crops plots that were 50 feet in length. The width ranged from 6-12 rows. All told, in the last five years I have walked 30.6 miles or 61,200 steps backwards seeding cover crops. In the span of four days last week, our team traveled 975 miles to seed the cover crops and collect the lysimeter water samples.
This year offered incredible weather to get the cover crops seeded and it was bittersweet to shake out the last packet of seed – oats – into the soybeans at Kanawha. I am also pleased to announce that I did not fall into the badger holes at our site in southwest Iowa – fifth year is the charm!
To everyone who helped establish the plots, the farm managers at the research farms and farmer partners for collecting biomass samples, yield data and management information, the pilots that flew on the cover crops, our outstanding summer interns and the team at Iowa Learning Farms – Thank You!
Stay tuned for an upcoming project report summarizing the great information this project has yielded.