Cover Crops for Better Corn and Soybeans

Our webinar on Wednesday featured Sarah Carlson, Strategic Initiatives Director at Practical Farmers of Iowa, who explained how cover crops and be a win-win for cash crops and the environment.

Cover crops can address water quality concerns, reduce soil erosion, and improve soil health. The figure above, from Carlson’s presentation, shows the effectiveness of cover crops at reducing nitrate in tile lines (10 mg/L is the drinking water standard). Despite these long term benefits, cover crops are not a widely used practice.

During the webinar, Carlson explained that low cover crop adoption may be linked to the amount of rented farmland in Iowa. Due to the nature of renting, renters need to see benefits to cover crops “tomorrow” rather than over the long term. Messaging about the benefits of cover crops that focuses on long term benefits will not increase adoption in areas where the majority of farmland is rented.

Carlson shared the highlights from several research projects that assess the more immediate benefits of cover crops. These short term benefits include reduced herbicide costs, weed control, as well as the effect of different cover crop termination dates ahead of soybean planting on yield. The results of these projects have indicated that cover crops can reduce herbicide costs (in some instances paying for themselves with the savings) and can offer weed control in the instance of herbicide-resistant plants.

To learn more about these research projects, their results, and the benefits of cover crops, watch the full webinar!

Join us on Wednesday, November 4 for a webinar with Adam Schnieders, water quality resource coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, titled “Nutrient Reduction Progress at Iowa Wastewater Treatment Facilities.”

Hilary Pierce

Evaluating Annual Forages for Beef Cattle: ISU Forage Research Test Plots

Iowa Learning Farms hosted webinar on Wednesday, August 26 about a current research project that assesses forage quality and potential yield of various annual crops. The benefits of incorporating annual forages is that they increase farm enterprise flexibility, extend the grazing season and provide a high-quality forage source, reduce weed pressure, and provide soil health and water quality benefits.

Map of the project’s research sites

The objectives of the research project are to compare forage yield and nutritional value, determine nutrient removal, and provide producer education. Erika Lundy, Extension Beef Specialist at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, explained the first-year results from this research project. The cool and warm season forage yields for the first year of the research project showed a benefit from applying nitrogen. Lundy also shared the forage quality measurements for the warm and cool season annuals, and compared those measurements to pasture quality.

During the webinar, Lundy also explained some of the best management practices for using annual forages, and touched on the economics of grazing. This research is part of a four-year project and more data will be coming out over the next couple years. The team will also look at soil nutrient loss when forages are mechanically harvested and will incorporate producer education and demonstrations to share the research results.

To learn more about the research into evaluating annual forages, watch the full webinar here!

Join us on Wednesday, September 2 at noon for a webinar titled “Long-Term Impacts of 4R Nitrogen Management Practices and Cover Crops on Nitrate-N Loss” presented by Matt Helmers, Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

Hilary Pierce

August 26 Webinar: Evaluating Annual Forages for Beef Cattle: ISU Forage Research Test Plots

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, August 26 at noon about a current research project that assesses forage quality and potential yield of various annual crops.

Incorporating annual forages into Iowa’s cropping system provides flexibility for land use, alternative forage availability at times of limited perennial forage for cattle, as well as other conservation practices. In an effort to benchmark utilization of winter and summer annuals as a forage resource for beef cattle, forage test plots at three outlying Iowa State University Research Farms have been established to evaluate nutrient quality and potential yield.

Erika Lundy, Extension Beef Specialist at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, will share the current results of this research project, which aims to provide research-based information that will help establish reasonable expectations in terms of forage quality and yield of various cover crop and summer annuals.

“In addition to the alternative forage resource annuals bring to farming enterprises, forages are valuable additions for preserving Iowa farmland’s soil and water quality,” said Lundy, whose current extension and research programs are focused on beef cattle nutrition and forage management to improve profitability on the farm level.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on August 26:

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

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 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.

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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

SABR: ISU’s New Sustainable Advanced Bioeconomy Research Farm

On Wednesday, August 12, we hosted a webinar about the new Sustainable Advanced Bioeconomy Research (SABR) farm at Iowa State University (ISU). SABR is part of the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI) and is one of only three sites in the rainfed US that is quantifying water, energy, nutrient and greenhouse gas exchange from perennial energy vs. status quo crops. The research being done at SABR is used to inform ecosystem service markets, policy and regulation.

CABBI has three field sites: the Archbold Research Station in Florida, the UIUC Energy Farm in Illinois, and the ISU SABR farm in Iowa.

Emily Heaton, Professor of Agronomy at Iowa State University,  discussed CABBI’s research areas and the scientific challenges that this research looks to address. One question that the research team is looking to answer is what happens when you plant lots of big, sweet, greasy grasses (sorghum, sugarcane or miscanthus) in the rainfed US? CABBI uses a combined field modeling approach, which means that measurements are taken then used in models to predict ecosystem services, optimal feedstock decisions and policy impacts.

Eddy covariance towers at the research sites monitor ecosystem fluxes of carbon, water and energy over the biofuel crops at the sites. Heaton shared eddy covariance results from the Illinois site, which was established first, as well as some preliminary results from SABR. She also discussed drainage plot research being done at SABR and future research.

Eddy covariance tower. Image from Heaton’s presentation.

To learn more about SABR and the ecosystem service research being carried out by CABBI, watch the full webinar here.

Join us on Wednesday for a webinar titled: “Tradeoffs Between Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Nitrate Loss, and Soil Health in No-Till and Cover Crop Systems”, presented by 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.

Hilary Pierce

August 12 Webinar: SABR: ISU’s New Sustainable Advanced Bioeconomy Research Farm

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, August 12 at noon about the new Sustainable Advanced Bioeconomy Research (SABR) farm at Iowa State University (ISU).

Ecosystem service markets promise farmers new money, but how do we quantify services farmers might sell? Emily Heaton, Professor of Agronomy at Iowa State University, will explain how greenhouse gas and water changes are being measured at field-scale in perennial and annual crops at the SABR farm. The knowledge gained from this research is used to inform government agency recommendations and private valuation of ecosystem services.

“Iowa is uniquely positioned to make money from providing ecosystem services and our research is revealing how to “grow” and measure ecosystem service products,” said Heaton, whose work investigates land and crop management strategies that return value to people and the land through perennial crops, especially perennial grasses. There is money to be made from providing ecosystem services and the research done by ISU at SABR is underpinning Midwest market development.

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

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

Optimizing Yields of Corn Planted After a Cereal Rye Cover Crop

Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about the effect of a cereal rye cover crop on corn yield. Alison Robertson, Professor and Extension Field Crops Pathologist at Iowa State University, shared results from one of her research projects, which investigates the effect of planting green on corn growth and development, and seedling disease. For this research project, experimental plots, microplots, and on-farm trials were used to look at how different rye termination dates and fertilizer applications affected the early corn growth and seedling disease, as well as overall yield.

Treatments used for the experimental plot field trial

It is recommended that rye cover crops are terminated at least ten days before planting corn to reduce potential yield drag in corn. However, in some years this is not possible, due to conditions at planting, or when a farmer would prefer to let the cover crop grow as long as possible for soil health and environmental benefits. This research looks at the effect of planting green and different rye termination dates on corn growth and yield.

2019 yield results from the experimental field trials for no rye, rye terminated 18 days before planting (DBP) with nitrogen applied, rye terminated 18 DBP, rye terminated 3 DBP, rye terminated 6 days after planting (DAP), and rye terminated 12 DAP

The experimental plot field trial in 2019 showed that yield was negatively impacted by the rye, except for when the rye was terminated 18 days before planting (DBP) and nitrogen was applied.

The microplot treatments

The microplots, which were about 15-20 plants long, looked at different fertilizer treatments for corn grown after rye and after no rye. The results from these treatments in 2019 showed that rye affects the early growth of corn. An unexpected result of this study was that there was more root rot present where nitrogen was applied.

Summary of the 2019 data

To learn more about this research project and the effect of rye cover crops on corn growth and development, watch the full webinar here.

Join us this week, on Wednesday, July 8 at noon, when the Cover Crop Bootcamp series kicks off with a presentation titled “The Business of Cover Crops” by Matt Carstens, President & CEO of Landus Cooperative, and Lee Briese, Independent Crop Consultant at Centrol of Twin Valley.

Hilary Pierce

July 1 Webinar: Optimizing Yields of Corn Planted After a Cereal Rye Cover Crop

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, July 1 at noon about the effect of a cereal rye cover crop on corn yield.

Alison Robertson, Professor and Extension Field Crops Pathologist at Iowa State University, will share results from one of her research projects which investigate the effect of planting green on corn growth and development, and seedling disease. It is recommended that rye cover crops are terminated at least ten days before planting corn to reduce potential yield drag in corn. However, in some years this is not possible, due to conditions at planting, or when a farmer would prefer to let the cover crop grow as long as possible for soil health and environmental benefits. This webinar will explore the benefits or disadvantages of this practice.

“Starting to incorporate cover crops on a farm may seem daunting, so our research seeks to better understand the system and provide management options to ensure new adopters are successful,” said Robertson, whose research lab focuses on seedling diseases of corn and soybean caused by oomycetes (water molds), particularly in corn and soybean planted after cover crops. “The benefits of cover crops far outweigh the disadvantages; and there are ways to manage the disadvantages.”

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on July 1:

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

Environmental Performance of Wetlands Receiving Non-Point Source Nutrient Loads: Benefits and Limitations of Targeted Wetland Restorations

Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar on Wednesday about the results from 15 years of research on Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetlands, including nutrient removal, greenhouse gas emissions, and hydrology. The research presented in this webinar is one of the largest and longest running projects of its kind and helps to clarify the potential benefits and limitations of targeted wetland restorations. The research methods are also being used to monitor the impact of in-field practice changes through the Conservation Learning Lab project.

The location of the sites for wetland performance monitoring during this project

Iowa’s landscape used to be covered in wetlands, but these have been extensively drained to allow for agriculture and development. Drainage networks are the primary pathways that nitrate moves across the landscape and into surface water. By routing drainage lines into treatment wetlands, these wetlands can remove nitrate from subsurface drainage, especially when they are constructed in targeted areas.

Targeted wetland restorations have the opportunity to intercept drainage networks to remove nitrogen

William Crumpton, University Professor at Iowa State University, also discussed greenhouse gas emissions from wetlands and the phosphorus removal performance of treatment wetlands that receive non-point source loads during the webinar. He emphasized the importance of targeting wetland restorations. Wetlands that are established for habitat in upland areas do not have the opportunity to intercept tile flow, and therefore can only remove low amounts of nitrate. If wetlands are sited strategically in downslope areas to intercept tile flow, then their removal of nitrate dramatically increases.

Upslope wetland sites only remove about 1.9 metric tons of N, while downslope wetland sites are able to remove about 17 metric tons of N.

To learn more about this research project and the effectiveness of targeted wetlands that receive non-point source nutrient loads, watch the full webinar here.

Join us next week on Wednesday, July 1 for a webinar titled “Optimizing Yields of Corn Planted After a Cereal Rye Cover Crop” presented by Alison Robertson, Professor & Extension Field Crops Pathologist at Iowa State University.

Hilary Pierce