As spring planting season ap­proaches, the conservation ef­forts of Iowa’s farmers are more apparent than ever. Cover crops are starting to green up, despite a dusting of snow last week that blanketed a portion of the state. 

The latest data shows that Iowa farmers planted 3.1 million acres of cover crops for the 2020 crop year, nearly double the total seeded just four years earlier. 

Those efforts are making a difference in water quality and soil health. In this issue of the Spokesman, you can read about Jim Calvert, a Guthrie County farmer and agriculture teacher, who says testing conducted by his students shows a reduction in nitrates in local waterways that are part of the Raccoon River Watershed. 

A new report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service shows cover crops can also improve soil health, even within the first few years after adoption. The researchers found four of the six soil health indicators they looked at — including carbon and organic matter — showed evidence of positive change with cover crops compared to the control strips without cover crops.

That’s no surprise to Iowa farmers, who have been noticing those kind of improvements for years. It’s one of the reasons they continue to innovate with different planting and termination methods. 

I’ve talked to farmers who are fearlessly planting soybeans into growing rye cover crops, sometimes waist-high or taller, in an effort to maximize those soil health and water quality benefits. 

That kind of thinking is just more proof that farmers never stop learning and doing what’s right for their farms and the environment.