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Iowa Crop Research Yields Some Surprising Results

Iowa researchers studied cover crops ranging from turnips to radishes to pennycress, as seen here. (Practical Farmers of Iowa)
Iowa researchers studied cover crops ranging from turnips to radishes to pennycress, as seen here. (Practical Farmers of Iowa)
August 16, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa - Iowa farmers, especially in today's economic climate, need to ensure they're getting the most bang for their buck. A just-completed research initiative in the state should help.

The group Practical Farmers of Iowa has spent the past five years testing a dozen cover crops to determine which is the most effective at maintaining soil health, preventing erosion and improving productivity. Stefan Gailans, the group's research and field crops director, said the study confirms that the most popular cover crop, cereal rye, is among the most effective but highly advertised cover crops such as radishes and crimson clover fared poorly.

"They may be good crops to use in other cropping systems or other parts of the country," he said, "but in the corn/soybean system here in Iowa and the upper Midwest, cereal rye or winter wheat are the most successful - and they're probably the most widely used in the state, as such."

Gailans said the biggest surprise was that brown mustard came in a solid third in the effectiveness rankings. Researchers defined success by determining which crops readily germinated and grew in the fall, and provided cover over winter before returning in February and March. The primary cash crops in Iowa are corn and soybeans.

The coordinated research effort involved Practical Farmers of Iowa and select farmers who were willing to take part in hand-planting experiments on small plots of land, Gailans said.

"We sent seed packets to the farmers, and they seeded these species in a couple of replications on their farms," he said, "and then we were able to assess their performance by observing those small plots."

Results of the cover-crop variety trial are on the Practical Farmers website.

Kevin Patrick Allen, Public News Service - IA