David Scott manages his family’s farm based on two philosophies: “Work with Mother Nature rather than fight it” and “Leave the land in better shape when you’re gone than it was when we got it.”

Scott, 58, is the third generation on his family’s crop and livestock farm near Muscatine. He uses a variety of conservation practices including terracing, a bioreactor, variable rate fertilizer application, no-till and cover crops.

Scott said his father put in miles of terraces on their land in the 1970s, preferring broad-based terraces over waterways because they don’t take land out of production. 

After frustrations with no-till in the 1980s, David Scott tried again in the mid-1990s and likes the results. “When Dad first tried it, no one really knew much about it. It was really tough to do in the beginning,” Scott recalls. 

The next step for the Scotts was cover crops, which they experimented with more than a decade ago. “We had all the usual blunders and mistakes and disasters that you can have with cover crops,” Scott said. 

But the family stuck with it. Today, one-half of their acres are in cover crops, and eventually they hope to have all of their land in the practice. Their original motivation for planting cover crops was to conserve moisture and control weeds. Some years cover crops worked, and some years they did not. But they kept trying and working at it. “You live and learn, just like everything you do,” said Scott, a Muscatine  County Farm Bureau member. 

He now uses an air seeder mounted on a rotary harrow to plant both soybean and corn acres to cover crops. He plants predominantly cereal rye but has also sown some clover and radishes.

Using a cotton sprayer

Scott is also experimenting with planting into growing cover crops, using a piece of equipment foreign to Iowa — a cotton sprayer. The sprayers were used before glyphosate resistance was introduced to strip-spray weeds be­­tween cotton rows. He was able to purchase a 1990s vintage sprayer from Texas and plans to use it to spray and kill 8- to 10-inch-wide strips of his cover crops on 30-inch rows. 

He’ll then plant corn or soybeans into the strip. He will try the method on 40 acres this year. 

Scott says it makes sense to plant green. 

“We realize that the soil is a living biological system and you want to nurture that. It’s very important for your cash crops to have a healthy soil,” he said.

Scott said he’s always been concerned about leaving bare ground. 

“Some of our best soil structures are in fencerows and pastures. In fields where we raise crops, the soil is totally different. So I thought maybe we can try to duplicate what Mother Nature does and have something growing on that bare ground — try to work with Mother Nature rather than fight her.”

Meyer is a freelance writer in Garrison.