It's the week of July 6 and for the second time in three years, untimely heavy rains and flooding in 2015 have caused many Iowa farmers to either lose a crop or prevent them from planting a crop altogether. This is especially the situation in southwest and south- central Iowa where a number of fields that were to be planted to soybeans remain unplanted. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service is encouraging those farmers to explore the benefits of planting a cover crop.
Barb Stewart, state agronomist for NRCS in Iowa, says farmers with unplanted fields will have to weigh their program and crop insurance options. "We encourage producers to also assess agronomic options for ensuring long-term productivity," she says.
Cover crops will provide many benefits for unplanted fields
Stewart says planting a cover crop will help producers with unplanted fields capture applied nutrients, fix nitrogen, build organic matter, control weeds, reduce erosion, and improve soil health and biology during the remainder of the season. "Iowa farmers can build considerable yield potential for following year crops," she says.
Cover crops also help prevent "fallow syndrome" a population loss of beneficial fungi in the soil. The beneficial fungi develop in corn roots and assist the corn plant in taking up nutrients. "Cover crops will serve as a host crop to give a better chance for the fungi to recover," says Stewart.
Cover crops also help prevent "fallow syndrome" in corn
Iowa NRCS recently revised a fact sheet for planting cover crops on prevented planting fields. The fact sheet includes a table with diverse cover crop mixes to address specific natural resource concerns. This fact sheet is available on the Iowa NRCS website (ia.nrcs.usda.gov) or at your local NRCS office.
"Producers are advised to check with their crop insurance agents on prevented planting requirements and harvest restrictions for cover crops," says Stewart.
Iowa Learning Farms July webinar is on soil health
Speaking of cover crops and what they can do to help protect and improve soil health, you'll want to tune in to the regular monthly Iowa Learning Farms webinar for July. It will be Wednesday, July 22, at 1 p.m. This month's presenter is Mahdi Al-Kaisi, Iowa State University professor in the agronomy department. His presentation will discuss the concept of soil health, its basic principles, factors for healthy soil, and management choices that affect the soil health.
Al-Kaisi is a professor of soil management/environment and an Extension agronomist at ISU. His research focuses on the effects of cropping systems, tillage systems, and crop residue management on soil health, soil carbon dynamics and greenhouse gas emission. Also, he studies the interaction effects of ag practices and environmental factors (i.e., climate change) on agriculture systems sustainability and productivity. His research and Extension activities focus on developing sustainable management practices that improve productivity and environmental quality.
These webinars are free and past topics are archived
The ILF webinars are usually held the third Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m., but this month it's on the fourth Wednesday. They are free; all that's needed to participate is a computer with Internet access. Go to connect.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/ at 1 p.m. the afternoon of the webinar and log in through the guest option. Webinar participants will be able to converse with Al-Kaisi by typing their questions through the chat function. The webinar will be recorded and archived on the ILF website for viewing at any time. All past webinars are archived on the ILF website extension.iastate.edu/ilf/Webinars/.
Since January 2011, ILF has hosted a webinar every month. Over 50 webinars are available to view on a wide range of topics including soil erosion, cover crops, buffers, bioreactors, and farmer perspectives. The webinar archives are also available in podcast through iTunes.
Established in 2004, Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation, encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best management practices that improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable. Partners of Iowa Learning Farms are the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension, Leopold Center for Sustainable Ag, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service and Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Conservation Districts of Iowa, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Water Center and Practical Farmers of Iowa. For more information about ILF visit extension.iastate.edu/ilf.