Cover Crops Served with a Side of Comedy

If you enjoy cover crops with a side of comedy, then you missed out on a good one.

The Iowa Learning Farms, along with Iowa Seed Corn Cover Crop InitiativeIowa Corn, and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, hosted a cover crop and conservation tillage field day at the Kossuth County Museum in Algona.

Kossuth County farmers Matt and Nancy Bormann share their experience with cover crops.

Liz Juchems kicked things off with talk of cover crops, species selection and the farmer’s best friend, the Lumbricus terrestris or earthworm. “We have found a 40% increase in earthworm middens in fields with cover crops,” stated Juchems. Turns out that cover crops are the earthworms best friend.

Doug Adams, a farmer and NRCS Soil Conservation Technician gave a play-by-play of his progression from conventional tillage to strip-till and no-till with cover crops.

Kossuth County farmers Matt and Nancy Bormann gave a great presentation on their farming history and offered some real gems. 

Of course, Matt did offer some more conventional advice. “Switching to strip-till helped us cut out a quarter million in equipment. My tip is to try something different on 40 acres…you have to get out of your comfort zone.”

Comedy is clearly not out of Matt’s comfort zone because he had the whole room laughing.

Reminder: If you missed this field day, be sure to tune in to our webinar December 12th at Noon to learn how #NotillB4Beans and #CoverYourBeans can help save time and money.

~Nathan Stevenson

 

No-till and cover crops working together in central Iowa

ILFHeaderCover crops are growing in popularity across the state as a way to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality and soil health. In central Iowa, where fall tillage is common, there has also been increasing interest in no-till — especially no-till soybeans thanks to innovative farmers like Mike Helland leading by example in Story County.

IMG_0065Mike hosted a field day last Thursday near Huxley to share his experiences using cover crops in his operation. While there was significant interest in the benefits of cover crops, including a credit on crop insurance, the majority of the questions and discussion was around using no-till in central Iowa where the soils tend to be heavier and wetter than other soil regions.

Mike began no-tilling soybeans in 1993 after attending the Farm Progress Show the year before. That first year the soybeans yielded better than the other fields so he decided to try it again the next year. After similar results, he began no-tilling all his soybeans in 1995.

“Tillage is one of the root causes of compaction,” stated Helland. “This year, the no-till soybean ground was holding up our equipment instead of sinking in like some of our neighbors. I love planting no-till beans – it’s such a smooth ride!”

As we headed back inside, Mike was joined by fellow farmers Aaron Lehman and Mark Kenney on a panel to discuss how they are using cover crops in their conventional, organic and seed corn operations, respectively.

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Left to right: Aaron Lehman, Mike Helland, and Mark Kenney

 “I thought there’s got to be something better than seeing the fields black, allowing soil to wash and blow away following seed corn harvest,” commented Kenney. “So we started seeding oats after harvest to protect our Century Farm. There is no natural system that leaves the soil black, so his is our effort to keep the soil protected!”

IMG_1800As the panel wrapped up, Helland shared this great piece of advice, “Everyone should try cover crops on 10 acres. It doesn’t cost much and who knows – you might like it!”

We have a few more field days still on the schedule, visit our events page to find one near you and RSVP today!

If you missed this field day, be sure to tune in to our webinar December 12th at Noon to learn how #NotillB4Beans and #CoverYourBeans can help save time and money.

Liz Juchems

 

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.

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

Scaling Up Conservation Implementation: An Investment in Practices AND People

CLLHeaderDr. Matt Helmers, Professor Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center presented our November webinar and discussed the innovative Conservation Learning Lab (CLL) project that is key to understanding impacts of in-field conservation practices beyond the research plot scale.

Floyd Co CLLHow does watershed delivery scale compare to a research plot? Plots are kept relatively small (e.g. 6 rows wide by 50 feet long) for easy replication at a research site. Whereas for this project, watershed delivery scale is capturing both surface and subsurface delivery of water from a small watershed (540-1,300 acres) of row crop production agriculture.  The goal is to assess the performance of conservation practices, specifically cover crops and strip-tillage, as the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy calls for large scale adoption of these practices.

Although scaling up requires investments in the practices, by the producer and taxpayers through cost-share, this project has highlighted also the importance of investing in the people that are helping make the implementation possible.

On average it took 12 hours per completed plan – from initial contact to signed contract. If the goal is 50% implementation in a HUC-12 watershed, it can take an estimated 47 weeks to complete the planning process!

Be sure to tune into the archived version of the webinar to see the preliminary water quality monitoring results and the next steps of the project.

Liz Juchems

November Webinar: Evaluating nutrient reduction at the delivery scale

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On Wednesday, November 14th at noon Dr. Matt Helmers, Professor Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, will discussing the innovative Conservation Learning Lab (CLL) project that is key to understanding impacts of in-field conservation practices beyond the research plot scale.

The webinar is a remote training opportunity for all stakeholders, including watershed coordinators, who are working on watershed improvement projects and implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

CLL LogoThe CLL is providing the opportunity to examine how in-field conservation practices impact nutrient loss at the scale at which water and nutrients are delivered to the stream. Through one-on-one meetings with farmers to complete the conservation planning process, the project team has helped these farmers implement cover crops, strip-tillage and CRP on their land. Pre-implementation and preliminary post-implementation water quality data will be shared from ongoing monitoring within the project areas.

“This research is critical to understanding impacts of in-field management beyond the plot scale,” commented Helmers. “Examining the results of large-scale adoption of practices at delivery-scale is critical to meeting the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals. It is also important to note the high amount of time and human capital needed to get farmer and landowner adoption of conservation practices at the level of implementation we need.”

Don’t miss this webinar!

DATE: Wednesday, November 14, 2018
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars and click the link to join the webinar

More information about this webinar is available at our website. If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website:
https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Liz Juchems

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”

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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.”

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“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.”

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“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

Five-Year Cover Crop Mixtures Study: Significant Nitrate Reduction and Unchanged Crop Yields

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The results of a five-year study conducted by the Iowa Learning Farms, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Practical Farmers of Iowa, reinforced that cover crops added to a corn-soybean rotation have no negative effect on yield and result in statistically significant reductions in nitrate concentration in subsurface water. The details of the study are included in a brand new infographic now available for download.

Throughout the 22 site-years of yield data, there was no significant difference in cash crop yields between control strips without cover crops and those planted with cover crops. Is it important to note that planter settings may impact yield if not properly managed to accommodate residue from the cover crops.

yield results

Iowa soils are highly vulnerable to nitrate losses between April and June when natural nitrate production exceeds typical crop demands. The analysis of water samples from those three months, showed a statistically significant reduction in nitrate concentration in the cover crop strips.
nitrate reduction

We are really excited to see this significant reduction in nitrate concentration when cover crops are present, as addressing nitrate levels is a key component to reaching our Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.

Project MapSince this project had locations located throughout the state, we were able to see how the different cover crop species performed in different soil regions and weather patterns. We observed consistent establishment and biomass production of the rye and oats at all sites and gained the largest reduction in nitrate concentration from those single species treatments. Rye and oats provided the most biomass and had the lowest cost of establishment, helping make them the top choice for cover crops in Iowa!

The infographic is available online at the ILF website. Funding for this study was provided by NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant and Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

-Liz Juchems