Iowa farmers are encouraged to check out a new online tool that will help them select the right cover crop for their farming operations. The information and recommendations it provides is based on university and USDA research as well as farmer experience.
The Cover Crop Decision Tool was developed by the Midwest Cover Crops Council to help farmers select cover crop species to plant based on their main crops, available planting windows and what they need from the cover crop such as stopping soil erosion. Or, a farmer may need a particular type of cover crop to use for livestock forage or a cover crop that will do a better job of helping control weeds. Last year, for example, farmers throughout the Midwest were urged to plant cover crops in the fall as a way to keep nitrogen in the soil that was not used by crops during the drought-stressed growing season.
New data has been gathered and used to update the original Cover Crop Decision Tool so that it now can be used for Iowa crops and conditions. The tool has sections and covers eight states and one Canadian province. It's easy to use and free on the Web.
"This tool should be a big help for farmers planning, considering or just thinking about how and where they might use cover crops," says Tom Kaspar, a plant physiologist at USDA's National Laboratory for Ag and the Environment, located at Iowa State University. Kaspar is involved with the Iowa Cover Crops Working Group that helped develop the tool. "The planting window for each species is adjusted for each county in all participating states, a unique aspect of this helpful resource," says Kaspar.
Helps select the right cover crop for your location and farming situation
Mark Peterson, who farms about 300 acres of row crops in southwest Iowa near Stanton, says he welcomes the opportunity to use the free, online tool to help him make cover crop decisions. After several years of consideration, he planted about 80 acres of cover crops for the first time last fall. He used a couple of methods, including aerial seeding of winter rye by helicopter into a standing soybean crop before soybean harvest.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
"I wanted to make sure that something worked," says Peterson. "I'm also comfortable that the winter rye by itself will save enough soil that even though it might not show up in the bottom line on a year-to-year basis. It will be worth it in the long term to plant cover crops because they keep the soil where it needs to be."
Peterson is a farmer-cooperator in the Iowa Cover Crops Working Group that has representatives from Iowa Learning Farms, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa State University Agronomy Department, USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. All organizations have contributed financially and otherwise to demonstrations and research related to cover crops.
Cover crop decision tool was developed by the Midwest Cover Crops Council
Kaspar says the tool is specific to region, soil drainage class and includes information about a variety of cover crop species: non-legumes such as oats, buckwheat, barley, triticale and winter wheat; brassicas such as radish, oilseed and turnip; legumes including alfalfa, red clover and cowpeas; and five mixes. The tool suggests various cover crop species and potential planting date windows that usually provide good establishment and growth, based on 30-year average frost dates in the user's county.
The original tool went online in 2011 with information suited for growing conditions in Indiana. It was expanded to Michigan, then Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and the Canadian province of Ontario. Iowa is the latest state to be added to the tool. In addition to main crops of corn, soybean, wheat and dried beans, the tool also offers cover crop choices for producers growing warm-season and cool-season vegetables.
* To find the Cover Crop Decision Tool, click here.