Mark Licht | Assistant Professor of Agronomy and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, Iowa State University
This past winter I coordinated a series of summits to develop best management practices (BMPs) for three in-field conservation practices. The summits focused on cover crops, no-tillage/strip-tillage, and diverse rotations. Our charge was to develop BMPs that would allow farmers who had no prior experience with the practices to successfully adopt the practices. This was a tall order for a group of people passionate about conservation and the desire to help farmers make the best decisions possible.
These three conservation practices are imperative to the successfully addressing Iowa’s water quality concerns. They also have the ability to address other resource concerns such as soil and wind erosion. Providing a clear message on strategies leading to successful adoption of conservation practices will lead to greater and continued adoption of these practices.
Like adoption of most things, there is the need to learn as much up front as possible. Extension specialists, crop advisers and neighboring farmers are great resources to learn tips and tricks for adopting a new practice. The next aspect is to start with a single field or portion of a field. This builds a comfort level with the new practice and allows more attention to be placed on fine-tuning the new system.
Often times, development of BMPs are straightforward at a broad level but are often dependent on the individualized aspects of each farm operation. There are many considerations that come into play for a recommendation to match the management practice of an individual farmer or field. This made it hard to develop BMPs that were definitive enough to provide guidance that still allowed flexibility. Our approach, where needed, was to discuss some of the considerations that must go into the decisions being made to help guide a management decision rather than prescribe how practices are implemented.
In many cases, there was agreement amongst participants as to what the BMPs were. However, there was nuance as to the details behind the BMPs being developed. This stands to reason because of the complexity that exists within cropping systems and the interaction between management practices, crop productivity, and environmental consequences.
Without going into too much detail, here are some of the main take away points;
- Cereal rye and oats are the preferred cover crops
- Corn and soybean management ahead of the cover crop does not need to be altered
- Aerial overseeding of cover crops should be targeted for August 20 to September 10
- Glyphosate is the preferred spring termination method for overwintering cover crops
- No-tillage is recommended ahead of soybean regardless of location, slope, or drainage
- Strip-tillage ahead of corn is recommended for poorly drained, low slope fields
- Small grains should follow soybean in diverse and an overwintering cover crop should be used
- Where markets are available, consider adding alfalfa or forage species into the traditional corn-soybean rotation
The BMPs from these summits are being fine-tuned through this summer and will be rolled out for public review and use in the fall.
In-Field Conservation Practices Summit participants represented Iowa Learning Farms, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance, Iowa Soybean Association, National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, and Natural Resources Conservation Service. The project was funded by USDA-NRCS in Iowa.