AMES, Iowa — Cover crops are planted in the fall and stay on fields over the winter, covering the ground with foliage and holding soil in place with their roots. These assets help to slow soil erosion and reduce nitrate leaching, thereby improving water quality. They also improve soil health and productivity and suppress weeds. Many farmers are seeking management advice about implementing cover crops into their corn-soybean rotations.
To help farmers in their decision-making, Iowa Learning Farms has launched a new tool to help calculate and compare the costs of using cover crops, including seed, application and chemical termination. Modeled after the popular Ag Decision Maker tools developed by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the calculator can be used for a single cover crop species or up to six species to a mixture. The tool calculates the cost of drilling and aerial application for easy comparison. It is available as an Excel file on the ILF website. To use the calculator, download and open the Excel file (Microsoft Excel software must be installed on your computer): http://www.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/content/cover-crops-0.
Cover crop acres are increasing as more farmers see their short- and long-term benefits. In Iowa, winter rye is most commonly planted as a single species and some farmers are using mixes such as rye, oats, tillage radish or turnips. Some cover crops also are being used for grazing livestock or as an extra rotation to produce small grain cover crop seed. To learn more about cover crops visit the ILF website for resources and videos on planting and terminating: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/.
Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation, encouraging adoption of residue management and conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best in-field management practices that increase water and soil quality while remaining profitable. Iowa Learning Farms is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA section 319); in cooperation with Conservation Districts of Iowa, the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Water Center.