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Iowa Farmers Start to Mix It Up: Cover Crop "Cocktails"

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Monday, January 20, 2014   

AMES, Iowa - The use of cover crops is having positive effects on the Iowa environment and also on the bottom line for farmers, and it appears the latest trend in that area will be even more beneficial. Cover crops are used in conjunction with cash crops mainly to help limit nutrient runoff and erosion on those acres over the off-season. At the Gabe Brown Ranch, covers are now used on all acres every year, and according to Brown, the next major shift will be to mixing species.

"In many areas, they're using monoculture cover crops, either rye or rye-grass. Well, what we're finding is that by adding other species to those mixes, such as a legume or a brassica like radish, the benefit will increase substantially," he said. "So, we're going to see a big increase in producers using poly-culture covers."

Brown's operation is in North Dakota, but he said the strategies for cover crops are universal: producers just need to match up the best species for the local growing conditions.

While cover crop use is increasing, they're currently found on less than 2 percent of cropland in the Mississippi River Basin. Brown said he expects that to change, as more farmers realize the positive impact on water quality and soil health. He said it can also really pay off to use cover crops along with other land conservation and stewardship practices.

"Our average yields are about 25 percent higher than county average, and yet we're doing this for a fraction of the cost," Brown said. "So, we're putting many more dollars in our pockets, but then along with that, the important thing to me is, we're regenerating these resources, making them healthier for a future generation."

Brown will be among the featured speakers at the annual conference of the Practical Farmers of Iowa, this Thursday and Friday at the Iowa State Conference Center in Ames.

Conference information is at bit.ly/KaqFXq.





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