Virtual Field Day November 5: Exploring Impacts of Cover Crops, Tillage & N-Inhibitors on Crop Performance and Water Quality

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day exploring impacts of cover crops, tillage and nitrogen-inhibitors on crop performance and water quality on Thursday, November 5th at 1 p.m. CST. Join us for a live conversation with Matt Helmers, Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, Emily Waring, Graduate Research Assistant, and Carl Pederson, Agricultural Specialist in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University.

Since 1989, research focused on the effects of nitrogen (N) management on crop production and tile drainage water quality has been conducted in north-central Iowa near Gilmore City. In 2010, the treatments were changed to examine the impacts of cereal rye winter cover crop vs. no rye (with and without tillage), conventional tillage vs. no-till, and timing of N-application and use of nitrification inhibitor. Through extensive data collection and monitoring, the team is measuring the impact of these practices on nitrogen and phosphorus loss and crop yield.

Matt Helmers and Emily Waring at the Gilmore City Research Plots

“This long-term dataset allows us to examine the impacts of conservation practices under a range of weather conditions. We have measured cover crops as an effective practice in reducing N loss from the cropping system,” says Helmers.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on November 5th, click HERE or visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events and click “Join Live Virtual Field Day”. 

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 914 1198 4892

The field day will be recorded and archived on the ILF website so that it can be watched at any time. The archive will be available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU). Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live field day.

Liz Ripley

Consider No-Tillage this Fall After Drought

Article originally posted October 19, 2020 by Mahdi Al-Kaisi, professor of agronomy and extension soil and water specialist at Iowa State University, for Integrated Crop Management News and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

The dry, warmer-than-normal growing season this year presents significant challenges for managing soil and crop residue this fall.

Excessively dry soil conditions this season make field preparation and tillage this fall challenging, even though a dry soil condition is preferred for conducting tillage operations. The advantage of having low soil moisture for tillage is a reduced impact of equipment traffic in causing soil compaction and ruts in the field. However, soil disturbance under dry or any other conditions destroys soil structure and increases the potential for soil erosion after any rain events and the loss of soil organic matter, top soil, and nutrients.

The lack of soil moisture, especially in the top 12 inches where most tillage occurs, can produce unfavorable conditions for soil fracturing. The excessive dry soil conditions can produce large soil clods that are not easy to break with secondary tillage in the spring. Also, tilling excessively dry soils can be costly in terms of fuel and time use as compared to soils with normal field moisture at field capacity. The effectiveness of incorporating crop residue may be limited and the lack of moisture will reduce the breakdown of crop residue.

The best option for managing dry soils and crop residue under dry conditions is to limit soil disturbance and keep residue on the soil surface. Crop residue can help mitigate drought conditions by trapping rain and snow moisture to recharge the soil profile for the following season.  It has been documented that keeping residue standing with no-till on the soil surface can trap 70% more of the water in rain or snow melt than conventional tillage. The water storage capacity of soil will be greater than that with conventional tillage, where soil structure is destroyed. Crop residue and tillage consideration for this fall is highlighted in this article: https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/blog/mahdi-al-kaisi/residue-management-consideration-fall

Conservation practices play a major role in managing soil moisture. The absence or reduction of soil disturbance in no-till both minimizes soil moisture loss from the soil’s surface and maximizes soil moisture storage. They also enhance beneficial soil physical properties such as increased water infiltration, maintenance of soil macropores, and reduction of surface runoff during rain events, thus increasing soil moisture storage.

Generally, every tillage pass can cause the loss of 1/4 inch of soil moisture.

However, this number varies based on soil texture, soil organic matter content, and the amount of residue on the soil surface. Thus, with the unpredictability of weather and to insure maximum soil moisture storage, precaution should be exercised in using tillage to manage dry soils this fall, and farmers should keep residue upright on the soil surface to increase the soil profile moisture recharge.

Tradeoffs Between Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Nitrate Loss, and Soil Health in No-Till and Cover Crop Systems

On Wednesday, we hosted a webinar about research into the connection between soil health and environmental quality at a cover crop and no-till research site. Morgan Davis, Assistant Professor at The University of Missouri School of Natural Resources, and Emily Waring, Graduate Research Assistant in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University, measured nitrate leaching, soil health indicators and greenhouse gas emissions to examine the tradeoffs and benefits of stacking cover crop and no-till conservation practices.

How combining reduced tillage and cover crops can improve both soil health and environmental quality (image from Davis & Waring’s presentation)

Cover crops and no-till are common conservation practices in Iowa and they can address concerns with both soil health and environmental quality. By combining these two practices, several resource concerns can be addressed. The research objective was to measure soil properties and environmental losses at a long-term research site and compare conservation treatments.

Research site location and treatments (image from Davis & Waring’s presentation)

Davis and Waring presented results from 2018 and 2019, which were two of the wettest years on record. The distribution of precipitation was also different. There was more rain in late summer to early fall than the historic average, which provides more opportunity for cover crops to improve water quality. Davis and Waring shared water quality, greenhouse gas emission, and soil health results for the study during these two years. The soil health metric discussed during the webinar was bio-available carbon (24 hour CO2 burst). The results are summarized in the bubble plot below.

Bubble plot showing a summary of the data (image from Davis & Waring’s presentation)

The recording of the webinar is now available on our website. While there be sure to check out the other great archived webinars available on our website.

Join us on Wednesday, August 26, for a webinar titled “Evaluating Annual Forages for Beef Cattle: ISU Forage Research Test Plots” with Erika Lundy, Extension Beef Specialist at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Hilary Pierce

August 25 Virtual Field Day: Utilizing No-till as a Moisture Management Tool

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group, is hosting a free virtual no-tillage and moisture management field day on Tuesday, August 25th at 1 p.m. CDT. Join us for a live conversation as we visit long-time no-tiller Doug Gronau’s farm in Crawford County and discuss the benefits of no-tillage, including soil moisture retention during dry conditions, with Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Regional Extension Educator.

“No-till has been a key to the quality of our crops this year. According to my weather station, this summer we are 6 inches short of rain compared to our average. However, when we went to take a look a week ago in our corn fields, there was still adequate soil moisture available for the crop,” noted Doug Gronau who farms with his son near Vail in Crawford County. For nearly 20 years, they have been planting no-till corn and soybeans to help reduce soil erosion, improve soil health, and manage soil moisture. They have also implemented additional conservation practices live waterways and terraces and used cover crops since 2014 to address soil erosion and help improve water quality.

Jodi Dejong-Hughes has been a Regional Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota Extension for over 23 years. Her area of specialization includes tillage management systems, soil compaction, and soil health management. “Reducing tillage is a great way to build soil structure.  A soil with good structure will have better water infiltration, letting a field capture more of the rainfalls, and also has the ability to hold onto that water for when the crop needs it,” stated DeJong-Hughes.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on August 25th, click this URL or visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events and click “Join Live Virtual Field Day”.

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 914 1198 4892

The field day will be recorded and archived on the ILF website so that it can be watched at any time. The archive will be available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU). Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live field day.

Liz Ripley

August 19 Webinar: Tradeoffs Between Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Nitrate Loss, and Soil Health in No-Till and Cover Crop Systems

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, August 19 at noon about the connection between soil health and environmental quality in a cover crop and no-till research site.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is emily-and-morgan-soil-sampling.jpg
Davis & Waring soil sampling

This research connects many important topics in the environment and agriculture: soil health, greenhouse gas emissions, and water quality. It is important to know how a given conservation practice impacts all three of these measures of sustainability.

Morgan Davis, Assistant Professor at The University of Missouri School of Natural Resources, and Emily Waring, Graduate Research Assistant in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University, utilized a long-term cover crop and no-tillage research site to examine these connections between soil health and environmental quality. They measured nitrate leaching, soil health indicators, and greenhouse gas emissions to examine the tradeoffs and benefits of stacking cover crop and no-till conservation practices.

“Cover crops and no-tillage are multi-beneficial, improving water quality and soil health metrics,” said Davis and Waring about the results of their research. Davis is a soil biogeochemist who studies nutrient and energy cycling in the context of ecological sustainability. Waring’s research evaluates conservation practices and their impact on subsurface (tile) drainage water quality.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on August 19:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/j/364284172

    Or, go to https://iastate.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 364 284 172 

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been approved, for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

June 17 Webinar: A Resource for Successful Adoption of Conservation Practices

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, June 17 at noon about the “Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual”.   

The “Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual” brought together many experts with the sole purpose of developing best management practices for the successful adoption of cover crops, no-/strip-tillage, diverse rotations, and edge-of-field practices.

This manual is designed to be a useful tool for farmers and crop advisers. It includes decision tools that will guide operators, landowners and/or conservation professionals through the decision-making process for adopting and implementing conservation practices. Mark Licht, Assistant Professor and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist at Iowa State University, will discuss the manual and how it can be used to guide adoption of conservation practices.

“It is my intention that participants will gain an understanding of what is included in the manual, but also how to use the manual to increase and improve that adoption rate of conservation practices,” said Licht, whose research an extension program are focused on corn and soybean management practices, particularly developing practices for the successful adoption of cover crops.  

The full manual is available as a free download from the ISU Extension Store, or our website https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/. We will welcome your ideas and feedback on the manual during the webinar, so we hope that you download the manual before the webinar.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on June 17:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/j/364284172

    Or, go to https://iastate.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 364 284 172 

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been approved for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Iowa’s Water Quality Challenge

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about the efforts and progress being made toward reducing agricultural losses of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, explained:

  1. How does nutrient loss occur in Iowa agriculture?
  2. Which practices reduce nutrient loss?
  3. Are these practices being adopted?

Nowatzke explained that agricultural losses of nitrogen and phosphorus mainly occur in two different ways: soil and phosphorus loss through erosion from surface runoff and loss of nitrate-nitrogen and some dissolved phosphorus through subsurface drainage. In-field and edge-of-field practices have been designed and are being adopted by farmers and landowners to reduce these losses.

These practices can be used to meet the nutrient reduction goals set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The Strategy lays out several different scenarios in which the goals can be reached through different combinations of practices and the necessary adoption rate for each scenario. One of these scenarios is shown in the figure below, with the current estimated adoption rate also shown.

More widespread adoption of these practices (in this combination of practices or in the other scenarios) will be needed to reach the nutrient reduction goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Nowatzke shared the following resources for more information:

More information about the progress toward Iowa’s water quality goals can be found in the forthcoming 2018-19 Annual Progress Report of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Last year’s report can be found here.

Watch the full webinar here!

Be sure to join us next week, on May 6, when  Ross Evelsizer, Watershed Planner & GIS Specialist at Northeast Iowa RC&D, will present a webinar titled: “Multi-Cropping as a Profitable Soil Health Solution“.

Hilary Pierce

Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020

On Wednesday Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about cover crops and no-till, with advice for operators who are using or interested in using these practices.

Liz Ripley, Conservation & Cover Crop Outreach Specialist, began by discussing cover crops and the data on their use collected by ILF through their field day participants. While the number of acres with cover crops has grown over recent years in Iowa, more adoption of the practice will be needed to meet the goals set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Ripley shared the results of a long term rye study and a study looking at the impacts of individual species and mixtures of species on water quality and crop yield. She also provided keys to success with cover crops:

Mark Licht, Assistant Professor & Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, then shared information about switching to no-till and the associated benefits. A study done at Iowa State University found that no-till had lower input costs and yielded higher economic return, when compared to conventional tillage. Mark’s tips for success when switching to no-till:

More information on these practices can also be found in the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual, available for free from the ISU Extension Store.

Watch the full webinar! We also have many other great archived webinars available here: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Join us next week, at noon on April 15, when Adam Janke will present: “Finding Mutual Opportunities for Soil, Water, and Wildlife by Redefining the Field Edge”.

Hilary Pierce

Which conservation tillage management system is right for my farm?

Iowa farmers constantly seek to lower production costs, protect the environment, and conserve natural resources. Adopting conservation practices works hand in hand with paying attention to the basics of production efficiency to achieve all three of these goals.

This post focuses on the first of three in-field conservation practices covered in the manualtillage management.

First things first, let’s define no-tillage and strip-tillage as we have used them in the manual.

No-tillage: Agricultural practice where crops are grown in undisturbed soil and plant residue at the surface.

Strip-tillage: A system with less than one-third of the row width tilled to create a seedbed. The strip- tillage system leaves more than two-thirds of the row width undisturbed between tillage zones.

Together these systems help better protect the soil from erosion by minimize soil surface disturbance.

Tips for success when using these conservation practices

How do you know which system will work best for your fields? Check out the tips and easy to use decision trees below as a starting point. Don’t forget to check out the manual for more great tips on adding no-tillage and strip-tillage to your farm.

Tillage Residue Management at a Glance

Success with tillage residue management is defined by your ability to meet both row crop production and conservation goals. The table below summarizes tillage management methods for corn and soybean rotations and assigns a relative success rate along with a level of confidence based on published research. There are links to additional resources on pages 58-61 of the manual.

Be sure to check out our YouTube video series on Converting Your Planter for No-Till Operation and our recent webinar – Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020​​​​​​​ for more great information.

-Liz (Juchems) Ripley

April 8 Webinar: Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, April 8 at noon. Due to the necessary postponement of our spring field days, this webinar will provide information on how to succeed with cover crops and no-till for spring 2020.

Liz Ripley, Conservation & Cover Crop Outreach Specialist, and Mark Licht, Assistant Professor & Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, will share results from a variety of cover crop projects. These projects include a 10-year cereal rye cover crop study, species selection information, water quality impacts, and tips for spring termination.

Cover crops continue to grow in popularity in Iowa due to their many benefits: reduced soil erosion, weed suppression potential, reduced nitrogen and phosphorus loads entering water bodies, and increased soil organic matter. “Fall 2019 was another difficult harvest season with limited time to complete fall tillage. Cover crops and no-tillage work together to help increase water infiltration and reduce erosion during heavy rain events,” said Ripley and Licht.

Don’t miss this webinar!

DATE: Wednesday, April 8, 2020

TIME: 12:00 pm

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: shortly before 12:00 pm on April 8th:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/j/364284172

    Or, go to https://iastate.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 364 284 172 

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for, for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce