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Mutual Benefits of Cattle, Cover Cropping in Iowa

Bruce Carney of Maxwell says cattle and crops can coexist and benefit one another. (PFI)
Bruce Carney of Maxwell says cattle and crops can coexist and benefit one another. (PFI)
March 27, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa -- As they gear up for the busy planting season, some Iowa farmers will pause to showcase the value of cover cropping.

Practical Farmers of Iowa's Spring Field Day Series starts Tuesday, and folks can learn about planting methods, spring management tactics and the soil and water health benefits of cover crops. Some events also will highlight how farmers are integrating cover crops and livestock.

Bruce Carney, a farmer and rancher from Maxwell, is hosting a field day on Thursday. He said he hopes to show that cattle and crops can coexist and benefit one another. He said the integration of cattle helps break down the capping of the water surface and reduces feed expenses and fertilizer needs.

"A cow is an awesome recycler,” Carney said. "They eat, depending on the size of the animal, 3 percent of their body weight - so 35 to 40 pounds per cow of crop residue and cover crops. And then they deposit 90 percent on the field in a much more readily available form of fertilizer for the next crop."

The series is called "Cover Crop Caravan," and guests will be able to make stops at several farms and locations. Contract grazing agreements will be covered, and Carney will talk about the unique agreement he has with a neighbor.

"There's actually a landowner involved that rents his crop ground to a conventional crop farmer, and then I'm a third party that's coming in with the animals to graze,” Carney said. "So it's kind of a three-way split of what we're doing. You've gotta get a lot of great minds together to make all that work."

With or without the use of livestock, Carney said cover cropping is an important strategy as growers work to reduce the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus.

"There's just a lot of water quality issues out here and erosion and things and conventional farming the way it is, and I think it's important to show that we're working on trying to clean the water up and make things better,” he said.

The first Spring Field Day will be held Tuesday at Glenwood Century Farm in Albion.

More information is available at

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IA