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.

Virtual Field Day September 24: Manure Application Considerations During Dry Soil Conditions

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day focused on best management practices for applying manure in dry soil conditions on Thursday, September 24th at 1 p.m. CDT. Join us for a live conversation with Brian Dougherty, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Field Agricultural Engineer.

Maximizing the nutrient availability and retention of applied manure for the upcoming crops begins with proper handling and application to the land. During dry conditions, it is even more important as those nutrients are especially vulnerable to being flushed from the system during future rain events. Dougherty led a study at the ISU Northeast Research near Nashua to examine the effect of manure application timing and cover crops on yields and drainage water quality. During the virtual event Dougherty will be share results from that project and similar projects, as well as provide best management practices for applying manure for the upcoming crop year.

“This field day will give producers some tips on planning ahead for fall manure applications. We will discuss some challenges specific to applying manure in very dry conditions as well as the benefits of using manure and cover crops together as an integrated system for improving utilization of manure nutrients,” noted Dougherty.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on September 24th, 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

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

July 9 Virtual Field Day: Prairie Strips – Small Footprint, Big Impact

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group, is hosting a free virtual prairie strips field day on Thursday, July 9 at 1pm CDT.  Join us as we explore the multitude of benefits prairie strips can offer with Tim Youngquist, ISU Prairie STRIPS farmer liaison, and Gary Guthrie, Story County landowner with prairie strips.

Photo Credit: Omar de Kok-Mercado

Prairie strips is a farmland conservation practice that uses strategically placed native prairie plantings in crop fields. The practice has been tested by the Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) team since 2007 on experimental plots at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and increasingly on commercial farms across Iowa. Results from more than eight years of trials showed that converting just 10 percent of a crop field to prairie strips could result in a reduction of 95 percent of the sediment, 90 percent of the phosphorus and 84 percent of the nitrogen from overland flow of surface water.

“Prairie strips are a useful conservation tool that farmers and landowners throughout the Midwest are integrating into their farming operations,” noted Youngquist. “Prairie keeps soil in place, filters water, offers habitat for many native species of wildlife and pollinators, provides beautiful blooming flowers, and more.”

Make plans to join us and participate in the live field day. Shortly before 1:00 pm CDT on July 9th, 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 is available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

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 field day.

Liz Ripley

June 18 Virtual Field Day: Digging Into Soil Health

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group, is hosting a free virtual soil health field day on Thursday, June 18 at 1pm CDT.  Join us as we dig into soil health with Dr. Marshall McDaniel, assistant professor in soil-plant interactions at Iowa State University, with video footage from the field and live interaction during the event.

The term ‘Soil Health’ has recently become popular due, in large part, to the increased awareness of the importance of soil biology.  However, current biological soil health tests are expensive, highly variable, and difficult to interpret. McDaniel studies the relationship between soils and plants and how this relationship is affected by management and the environment. The McDaniel Research Group’s goal is to understand what enhances soil-plant interaction, soil health, and agroecosystem sustainability. 

“Farmers want to be able to monitor changes in their soils. While traditional fertility tests have major limitations when it comes to measuring soil biology, commercially available soil health are very expensive. We want to highlight some good do-it-yourself soil health tests that farmers and landowners can implement relatively inexpensively,” noted McDaniel.

Make plans to join us and participate in the live field day. Shortly before 1:00 pm CDT on June 18th, 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 is available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

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 field day.

Liz Ripley

May 13 Webinar: Exploring the Case for Retiring (Or at Least Down-Sizing) the Mower on Farms and City Lots

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, May 13 at noon about the benefits of reducing mowed land area across rural Iowa.

Reducing the size of mowed areas in rural Iowa has many layered benefits for landowners and land. Adam Janke, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist, will compare the costs and environmental benefits of three management options for existing idle turf grass areas in rural landscapes. Changing management of these areas from turf monocultures to diverse native perennial plants, like those found in pollinator plantings, can improve water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat. Making the change from turf to native perennial plants will also save landowners money and time.

“Farm margins are exceptionally tight and the need for every available acre in Iowa to work for soil, water and wildlife is greater than ever,” said Janke. “This work will show how creating new habitat areas on a farm can help to improve conservation outcomes while also saving time and money for the landowners.”

Janke, who studies wildlife habitat relationships in working agricultural landscapes, hopes that participants will take away new perspectives and ideas for what they can do with idle areas that already exist on their farms and acreages.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm on May 13:

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

Multi-Cropping as a Profitable Soil Health Solution

Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar on Wednesday about multi-cropping, and the soil health, environmental, and economic benefits of this practice.

Multi-cropping, which means more than one crop is harvested from the same field in the same year, can be done in several different ways. Relay-cropping is one option, where two crops with overlapping growing seasons are grown in the same field. Another option is double cropping, which is when two crops are grown and harvested together. Poly-cropping is when three or more crops are grown together. Finally, inter-cropping is when one or more crops are planted into an existing crop prior to harvest.

Ross Evelsizer, Watershed Planner & GIS Specialist at Northeast Iowa RC&D, explained what Iowa farmers have been trying and how multi-cropping can be done successfully. Iowa farmers are having good luck with relay-cropping. Crop combinations that are being used successfully in Iowa include pairing soybeans with a fall or spring planted small grain. Corn setups have been less successful, but some participants have tried corn with forage mix or cowpeas planted between 60 in. corn rows.

Benefits of multi-cropping for the farmer or landowner include diverse investments, improved soil health, weed suppression, and flexibility. From an environmental standpoint, multi-cropping can reduce soil erosion, reduce disturbances, and increase biodiversity. Evelsizer shared a producer’s relay-crop budget vs. their soybean production budget. Although there was a yield reduction for the soybeans grown in the relay-cropping system, the added revenue from the cereal rye meant that, overall, revenue for the relay setup was higher. The profit for the relay system was also significantly higher than that of the soybeans alone.

To learn more about multi-cropping, watch the full webinar here! You can also connect with Multi-Cropping Iowa on Facebook or Twitter!

Join us next week to learn about the benefits of mowing less. Adam Janke, an Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist at Iowa State University, will present a webinar titled “Exploring the Economic, Ecological, and Aesthetic Case for Retiring (Or at Least Down-Sizing) the Mower on Farms and City Lots”.

Hilary Pierce

May 6 Webinar: Multi-Cropping as a Profitable Soil Health Solution

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, May 6 at noon about multi-cropping, and the soil health, environmental, and economic benefits of this practice.

Multi-cropping has many associated benefits. It adds opportunities for producers to increase diversity to crop rotations, creates additional economic opportunities, reduces input costs and weed pressure, mimics nature, and builds soil health. Ross Evelsizer, Watershed Planner & GIS Specialist at Northeast Iowa RC&D, will explain what multi-cropping is, and what producers are doing in Iowa and other parts of the country, during this webinar. Evelsizer will also describe the benefits of multi-cropping for soil health and the environment, as well as the economic implications of the practice.

“I hope people will learn about multi-cropping and think about how it could be worked into what they are doing,” said Evelsizer, who has had seven years of experience in watershed management in northeast Iowa, where he has worked alongside producers and landowners to tackle flooding and water quality issues while maintaining economic productivity. He will also discuss the next steps for Multi-Cropping Iowa.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm on May 6:

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