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!