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Farmers see gains with cover crops

Farmers see gains with cover crops

Cover crops are a cost-effective tool to reduce soil loss, boost weed control and improve overall soil health, two central Iowa Farm Bureau members said last week.

“I’ve really found that cover crops fit pretty well in today’s tight economy,” said Bret Pierce, a Boone County Farm Bureau member who spoke at a cover crop meeting in Ankeny co-sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. “I’ve been looking at a lot of ways to make cover crops work in a tight economy, and I’m really seeing a lot of ways to do that.”

Mark Kenney, a Story County Farm Bureau member who raises seed corn and row crops, said he’s been able to fit cover crops into his operation and likes the results, especially in reducing soil loss.

“We aren’t seeing the black ditches as much as we used to because the cover crop is helping hold onto the soil,” he said. “That’s really become a point of pride in my area to have green fields in the fall.”

Many seed corn growers, like Kenney, have adopted cover crops through an initiative by the Iowa Seed Corn Association, another sponsor of the Ankeny meeting.

SEED CORN ADVANTAGE

Cover crops work especially well for seed corn raisers because the crop is harvested early, usually by mid-September, Kenney said. That allows cover crops more time to get established in the fall than on fields growing commercial crops, he said. “We’ve been able to fold cover crops into our operation, and I really see only positives and not any deterrents, so far.”

Cover crops appear to have a lot of potential to suppress weeds and reduce herbicide costs, said Pierce, who is part of the Soil Health Partnership, an initiative led by the National Corn Growers Association.

“I need to work on figuring out exactly how much I can reduce herbicides on the fields with cover crops, but I think there is a substantial amount of reduction,” Pierce said. “The cover crop fields were the cleanest fields we had last year, and I think we could dial back our herbicide program a lot.”

Fields planted with cover crops also appear better at absorbing and holding water, Pierce said. That’s a big advantage with the heavy rains that have pounded Iowa over the past few years, he said.

Kenney said he’s seeing overall gains in soil health from planting cover crops.

Pierce added that landlords, including those from other states, have been very receptive to cover crops and he’s found most are willing to help with cover crop costs.

Other sponsors of the cover crop meeting were the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Clean Water Iowa and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

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