Finding the right seeding method – which option is best for you?

ILFHeaderJust ask Clayton County farmers Mark Glawe, Dan Keehner and Brian Keehner! Each have explored different seeding methods and shared their tips for successful cover crop management at our field day on November 29th in Luana. Although their soil types, crop rotations and seeding method vary, they share similar goals for using cover crops in their operations – improved soil health and reduced nutrient losses.

IMG_0107

Left to Right: Farmer Panelists Dan Keehner, Brian Keehner, Mark Glawe, and Eric Palas, Clayton County SWCD Project Coordinator

Mark Glawe began using cover crops in his no-till system near Elkport in 2006 to address soil erosion concerns on his steep slopes. In early September, he seeded about 2/3 of his acres aerially with oats, rye, radishes and rapeseed. These acres are grazed by his cattle herd following harvest and again in the spring. This year, Mark turned his cattle out in October and estimates his additional forage value at $35/acre. In addition to the aerially seeded acres, Mark’s son follows the combine on the remaining acres to drill cereal rye to keep the steep slopes covered between crop seasons.


Dan Keehner first started with aerially seeded cover crops in 2013 on his ground near Monona. Noting disappointment with the consistency of the stand, he hired the cereal rye cover crop to be drilled after harvest in 2014. Similar to this fall, harvest was delayed and the drilling wasn’t completed until mid-November. With limited fall growth but more consistent stand, Dan decided to set up his own cover crop seeding rig for 2015.

Using his vertical tillage implement, Dan mounted an air seeder to seed the cover crop himself following harvest and has covered all of his acres with a cover crop since 2016. He uses both cereal rye and winter wheat to keep the ground covered until planting of his cash crop in the spring.

“I love seeing one crop (cover crop) go down and another (corn/soybeans) come up. You know when you get the rains, that soil is protected,” stated Dan.


Similar to his cousin, Brian Keehner has tried multiple seeding methods but wasn’t satisfied with the results. Through custom innovation, and discussion with a cover crop user in Indiana, Brian has modified his combine with an air delivery system on his corn and soybean heads to seed the cover crops while harvesting. This method fits the needs of his operation by saving time, labor and fuel by combining passes. His next goal for the system is to increase his seed carrying compacity to reduce the number of refill stops.

Regardless of how they seeded their cover crops, all three producers reported 0.5-1.2% increases in their soil organic matter over a five year time-frame. The combination of no-till and cover crops has led to the retention and building of soil organic matter on their lands. The building of organic matter helps improve water holding capacity and retention of soil micro-nutrients needed for crop production. With healthier soils, we have healthier crops and water!

Liz Juchems

Conservation: Investing in the Land for Years to Come

Farmers and landowners pulled in to West Iowa Bank in Laurens earlier this week for a cover crop + conservation field day.  Wait, a field day at a bank?!  That’s not a typo.

A regular trip to the bank might involve a deposit transaction, reflecting how we invest our money.

This trip to the bank was all about how we invest in the future of our land—reflecting how conservation practices are an investment in our land and our water for generations to come.

Cover crops and no-till, in particular, were at the heart of the conversation during the field day. Out in the field, after lunch, we saw some nice fall growth of cereal rye, thanks to host farmer Dick Lund.

 

Back to thinking in terms of investments, that theme ran deep as area farmers shared the following thoughts in the farmer discussion panel:

 

Investing in conservation practices like no-till can mean saving money, too:

This field day was a collaboration of Soil Health Partnership, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Seed Association, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Clean Water Initiative, Iowa Corn, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, and Iowa Learning Farms.

Iowa Learning Farms has a handful of additional field days still coming up this month, now that harvest is just about wrapped up. Visit our events page to find one near you and RSVP today!

Ann Staudt

Cover Crops on Tap at Nick Meier Field Day

ILFHeaderAs the weather gets colder and the days grow shorter, evening cover crop field days move indoors. Fortunately, the indoor atmosphere was perfect for an informal cover crop discussion.

The Nick Meier Field Day was hosted at Single Speed Brewery in Waterloo where attendees enjoyed several different varieties of flat bread pizza made from local ingredients. After dinner, the conversations turned toward cover crops, crop insurance, herbicide planning, soil health, earthworms and water sampling.

“Sampling your water is not something to be afraid of. It’s something to understand.” Theo Gunther, Iowa Soybean Association

There was particular interest in the earthworm study being done by the Iowa Learning Farms. Jamie Benning led the discussion and had some updates to share about the study.“Preliminary data determined that there was a 40% increase in earthworm middens found in fields with a cover crop versus without cover crops.”  Jamie Benning, Extension Water Quality Program Manager

The evening concluded with an excellent farmer panel where they discussed their experience using cover crops, planting into cover crops and tips for termination.

The field day was hosted by Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Farmers Union, the Soil Health Partnership, the Iowa Seed Association, the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Clean Water Initiative, Iowa Corn, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and Iowa Learning Farms.

If you missed the field day and are interested in attending one this month, visit our events page to find one near you and RSVP today!

 

~Nathan

Dig a little, learn a lot!

ILFHeaderAt our field day yesterday with Lake Geode Watershed, hosted by Southeastern Community College, we explored what is happening beneath the surface in a no-till, cover crop system. As a system, these practices provide many benefits including: increases in water infiltration, earthworm population, organic matter, water storage – all while decreasing soil erosion, nutrient losses as well as time and fuel not spent on tillage!

Here are a few highlights from the field day:

“One of your best tools as a farmer or landowner is your shovel,” stated Jason Steele Area Resource Soil Scientist for USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Use it to take a look at your soil. Are there earthworms? Is there compaction? Cover crops added to no-till can help feed the worms and break up that compaction”

img_0036.jpg

Thom Miller, Henry County Farmer – 
“My no-till system is working better now than when I started. I credit that to the combination of no-till and cover crops working together and over the last five years the results have been amazing.”

img_0045.jpg

“I have a tile system that ran nearly all summer due to improved infiltration and soil health through my no-till, cover crop and cattle grazing system.”

img_0043.jpg

“I plant shorter season corn and soybeans since I have them custom planted and harvested. A benefit of choosing those varieties means I can get my cover crop seeded earlier and take advantage of the early fall weather to make sure I get a good stand.”

We have seven more field days coming up this month! Visit our events page to find one near you and RSVP today!

Liz Juchems

Register to Attend 2018 Conservation Tillage Conference in Fargo!

strip-till-jodiUniversity of Minnesota Extension and North Dakota State University Extension Service are co-hosting the 2018 Conservation Tillage Conference on Dec. 18-19 in Fargo, ND at the Hilton Garden Inn Conference Center.

Roll up your sleeves for some practical, hands-on information that will save you soil, time, fuel, and money. This conference emphasizes proven farmer experience and applied science. Straight from the fields, learn how heavier, colder soils aren’t necessarily the challenge they’re made out to be. Hear from long-time no-till, reduced tillage, and cover crop farmers as they share their experiences, so you can be spared the same hard-learned lessons.

Whether you are a novice crop consultant or experienced in improving soil health, this conference is for you. The schedule includes a variety of speakers, including experienced growers, agronomists, and academic experts.

Participants will learn about nearly every aspect of improving soil health and productivity:

  • Weed species shift and control
  • Nutrient management in high-residue systems
  • Reduced till and cover crop strategies straight from veteran farmer practitioners
  • Proven cover crop strategies for your system to anchor nutrients, manage moisture extremes and provide free nitrogen
  • Soil health improvements with reduced till systems and cover crops
  • Vendor Sessions: Learn about new equipment, products and technology

Informal table talk sessions will follow to allow time to interact with speakers and industry. Three expert panels will share multiple methods for improving soil health and their bottom lines, as well as tricks they’ve learned over the years. Panelists include conservation farmers, skilled crop consultants, and experienced livestock producers.

The two-day conference opens with a keynote speech from Steve Groff, Cover Crop Coaching. Steve is a farmer who is widely known and respected as a cover crop pioneer, innovator, and educator.

More than 20 vendors representing equipment, products, and providing educational information will be on-site throughout both days. Attendees who stay for the entire conference will be offered 10 continuing education units (CEU).

Early bird fee is $140 for the full conference. Prices will rise to $180 after December 3rd, 2018. Register online at DIGtheCTC.com or call 320-235-0726 x2001.

Visit DIGtheCTC.com for more information on the agenda, lodging, program speakers, and to register.

Back in the seeding saddle again!

IMG_1668We were busy last week seeding our cover crop mixture project sites for the sixth year.  We are continuing the plots at three of our sites to take a closer look at the common nightcrawler, Lumbricus terrestris, as a biological indicator of soil health.

Between the storms, we were able to seed oats and a mixture of oats, hairy vetch and radish into the soybeans. We also seeded rye and a mixture of rye, radish and rapeseed into the standing corn to cover this fall but also next spring ahead of soybeans. This is a perfect example of using an overwintering cover crop species like cereal rye to #CoverYourBeans!

Many thanks to Emily Waring, Taylor Kuehn and Maddie Tusha for all your help!

IMG_20180828_111053-ANIMATION

Liz Juchems

Tea Bags Tell Story of Soil Health

Soil health is trending, there’s no doubt about that! But perhaps expensive soil tests aren’t your cup of tea.

Look no further than the Soil Decomposition Index: a simple, straightforward, citizen science approach to evaluating soil health that utilizes buried tea bags. Learn more about this novel approach to soil health from Dr. Marshall McDaniel, assistant professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, in his recent Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled Burying Tea to Dig Up Soil Health.

Microbes are the engines that drive the biology of our soils, especially the cycling of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Under the umbrella of soil health, McDaniel points out that biological indicators are the most sensitive to changing management practices, so this tea bag concept is built upon evaluating one aspect of the biology going on right beneath our feet.

The tea serves as food for the smallest soil microorganisms, including bacteria, actinomycetes, and fungi, that are able to squeeze through the tiny openings in the mesh tea bag. As the tea is consumed over time, the bags are dug up and weighed, providing an indication of the biological activity within the soil, particularly the decomposition activity of the smallest soil organisms.

In each field, McDaniel’s team is comparing two types of teas side-by-side: green tea, which simulates a high quality (low C:N) residue, and rooibos tea, which simulates a lower quality (high C:N, nitrogen-limited) residue. Based on how much of each tea is remaining, you can calculate a Soil Decomposition Index value.  Values range from 0 to 1, and the closer to 1, the healthier the soil is! Using two teas side-by-side lets you calculate a standardized Soil Decomposition Index value which accounts for temperature and soil moisture variability, as well as allowing results to be readily compared between different sites – so you can compare apples to apples.

Check out the full webinar, Burying Tea to Dig Up Soil Health, on the Iowa Learning Farms webinars page, to hear more details of this novel soil health test and preliminary results from on-farm studies evaluating the Soil Decomposition Index with cover crops.

For those active on Twitter, you can follow the McDaniel lab, @ Soil_Plant_IXNs, as they continue to evaluate this unique tea bag concept and many other aspects related to soil-plant interactions and agricultural sustainability.

Ann Staudt