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Research Project Verifies Dollar Return on Iowa Cover Crops

An Iowa study says grazing cattle on cover crops can put up to $60 per acre in a farmer's pocket. (michaelfields.org)
An Iowa study says grazing cattle on cover crops can put up to $60 per acre in a farmer's pocket. (michaelfields.org)
April 3, 2018

AMES, Iowa – New research says that, depending on the size of their farms, Iowa farmers can save between $350 and $40,000 per year by grazing cattle on cover crops. The two-year, on-farm research project is being conducted by ractical Farmers of Iowa in order to put a price tag on the forage produced by cover crops.

The goal was to quantify the value of grazing cattle on cover crops and showed the total economic gain from feeding those crops to cattle ranged from $2 per acre to $60 per acre.

Bill Frederick is one of three farmers participating in the project in west central Iowa.

"I really think that cover crops are beneficial for the soil, for the water and kind of good for you and the neighbors, and anything to make that cost-effective is a good deal," he explains.

During a "field day" today, Frederick will address crop grazing mixes and seeding rates, fall and spring grazing management and spring cover-crop termination.

The Practical Farmers of Iowa free event is from noon to 3 P.M. at Frederick's farm near Jefferson, Iowa.

Frederick is one of the three cow-calf producers in the North Raccoon Watershed to participate in the research. He's seeded oats, cereal rye, turnips and even radishes as part of the experiment and says he more than recouped his costs and also improved his soil health.

"I think our water-holding capacity is a lot better, along with that it's supposed to be good for the microbes, and the more we learn about that, the more we find out how much good they're doing," he says. "And then erosion control obviously is huge, so, I don't think it's a passing fad. I think it's here to stay."

Fredrick notes that by integrating livestock into cover-crop cultivation, many farmers can realize sizable monetary benefits within the first year.

Cover crops were used nearly 200 years before World War II, and Frederick says while they might not work for every farmer, their increasing popularity is a good sign.

"Cover crops aren't a new idea," he adds. "It's recycled technology. In the fifties, pretty much every farmer around was using cover crops in the fifties, and then we kind of got away from it, and now we're just coming back to it."

The practice of seeding fields with cover crops between harvests keeps topsoil in place and reduces nitrogen and phosphorus runoff.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA