This spring Practical Farmers of Iowa will hold a series of field days across Iowa that are focused on cover crop issues in grazing and row crop systems. Anyone interested is welcome to attend and see cover crops in action on a farm, and learn about cover crop basics as well as practices used to maximize the financial return from cover crops.
The upcoming field day series is called “Cover Crop Caravan,” because each day includes stops at multiple farms and locations. All events in the series, which run from noon to 3 p.m., are hosted by farmers and are free. The first field day is March 28 at Albion in central Iowa.
Cover crop acreage jumps again in 2016
The number of Iowa cover crop acres jumped by about 32% to 623,700 acres in 2016, despite low corn and soybean prices and tight margins, according to a new report from Iowa Learning Farms. Growth in cover crop acres came from both first-time and experienced users. The majority of respondents in the ILF Field Day Evaluation Report (69%) started seeding cover crops at least three years ago, have an average of five years of experience with cover crops and have steadily increased cover crop acreage.
As experience with cover crops increases, concerns about yield impact on the following corn and soybean crops and skepticism among farmers decrease, the new report indicates. Most farmers reported a “little-to-negative” effect on corn and soybean yields grown after cover crops. Some said the practice actually increased soybean yields in seven of the site-years, and increased corn yield in two site-years.
Cost was identified as the biggest barrier to cover crop adoption. Cost-share funding was used to plant 82% of the acres seeded to cover crops. While 623,700 acres planted to cover crops in Iowa in 2016 is positive news, it is still well below the goal of 12.5 million acres set by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
Attend a cover crop field day near you
Plan now to attend a Cover Crop Caravan field day near you this spring. Specific details about each field day will be announced closer to the date. Hosts and locations, along with a map of events, are available at practicalfarmers.org. Events in the series, locations and hosts include:
• March 28 — “Grazing Cover Crops” at Albion, hosted by Wade Dooley, with guest speaker Allen Williams
• March 29 — “Cover Crops for Corn and Soybeans” at Reinbeck, hosted by Jack Boyer
• March 30 — “Grazing Cover Crops” at Maxwell, hosted by Bruce Carney, with guest speaker Allen Williams
• April 4 — “Cover Crops for Corn and Soybeans” at Hancock, hosted by Russ Brandes
• April 6 — “Cover Crops for Corn and Soybeans” at Leighton and Pella, hosted by Ward Van Dyke
• April 11 — “Grazing Cover Crops” at Lake City, hosted by Mark Schleisman
• May 30 — “Grazing Cover Crops” at Sioux Center, hosted by Matt Schuiteman
The field days on March 29, April 4 and April 6 will explore fundamentals of working with cover crops, says Tamsyn Jones, outreach coordinator for PFI. Attendees will learn about planting methods, spring management tactics, and soil and water health benefits of cover crops. The host farmers will also explain what they’ve learned about intermediate management topics, such as scouting cover crops, spring management for growing cover crop seed and management for rye going into corn.
The other events will showcase the value of integrating cover crops and livestock, she says. Attendees will see cattle grazing cover crop fields, and learn about grazing management, nutrition from cover crop forage, contract grazing agreements and managing herbicide residues for grazing.
Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2017 spring cover crop field days are supported by Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension, Land Stewardship Project, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, The Pasture Project, and Unilever.