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Iowa Farmers Test Innovative Technique to Manage Cover Crops

Cover crops grew on only 2.6 percent of Iowa's nearly 23 million acres of corn and soybeans in 2016. (crop watch.unl.edu)
Cover crops grew on only 2.6 percent of Iowa's nearly 23 million acres of corn and soybeans in 2016. (crop watch.unl.edu)
February 28, 2018

AMES, Iowa — A new research project is underway to explore how Iowa farmers could use cover crops as a way to prevent soil, nitrogen and phosphorus from leaving farm fields.

The group, Practical Farmers of Iowa, says cover crops such as cereal rye can be planted in the fall and then terminated in the spring by using a mechanical roller-crimper, avoiding the use of chemicals or the need for tiling.

Tim Sieren farms 350 acres of corn and soybeans in southeast Iowa and says he's a conventional, not organic farmer but wanted to try it because it's important to think outside the box.

"The number one reason is for erosion control, and then after you start doing it for a few years, you build your organic matter in your soil, if you use no-till and cover crops over time, you can build it about twice as fast with the cover crops as you can just doing straight no-till," he explains.

Cover crops grew on only 2.6 percent of Iowa's nearly 23 million acres of corn and soybeans in 2016. In contrast, cover crops were planted on more than seven percent of the 11 million acres of corn and soybean acres in Indiana during the same period.

Sieren notes that the roller-crimper method is dependent on a large amount of cover-crop growth and the cover crop reaching the flowering stage in late May before crimping. He says if he can perfect using the system in soybeans and still maintain yields, he could drastically reduce herbicide use.

"And what guys are finding out is that you can even plant the soybeans in the green-growing rye and still let the rye grow and then terminate it later when the soybeans are coming up so you get more growth out of the rye," he adds.

Practical Farmers says research shows farmers could save thousands of dollars on herbicides each year by adopting innovative techniques such as the roller-crimper. Herbicides can cost from $25-55 dollars per acre, depending on the crop.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA