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Will try cover crops this fall

By Staff | Aug 23, 2011

John Gilbert, of Iowa Falls, a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, has a dairy herd with genetics from Brown Swiss cattle his grandfather started as a high school student. Gilbert said he believes livestock should be comfortable around humans.  Gilbert knows his cattle so well he does not use ear tags as he knows them by name.

By CLAYTON RYE

Farm News staff writer

IOWA FALLS – The Natural Resources Conservation Service recently completed a signup program encouraging farmers to plant a winter-hardy cover crop in late summer or early fall. The signup deadline was Aug. 1.

The program was available to farmers in the counties of Boone, Buena Vista, Calhoun, Emmet, Greene, Hamilton, Hancock, Humboldt, Kossuth, Palo Alto, Pocahontas, Story, Webster, Winnebago and Wright.

Parts of Carroll, Cerro Gordo, Clay, Dallas, Dickinson, Franklin, Guthrie, Hardin, Jasper, Marshall, Osceola, Polk, Sac and Worth counties were also included in the program.

One participant is John Gilbert, of Iowa Falls, a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, who milks 30 to 40 head of Brown Swiss cattle.

He also pasture-farrows his hogs on a family operation, raising corn on 315 acres and soybeans on 225 acres. He has 20 acres of small grains and 90 acres of hay and pasture.

Gilbert sees an additional advantage in being able to graze the cover crop as supplemental feed for his dairy herd as he pastures his cows and dry heifers.

“The more they can harvest on their own, the happier we are,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert is planning on using a mixture of oats, winter wheat, and rape seed for his cover crop.

He will seed it on his silage acres and soybean fields.

As he is new to using a winter hardy-cover crop, he is planning on seeding a small amount of ground to learn more about how it fits into his farm operation.

“I’ll start small with it and learn,” said Gilbert. “I’ll make small mistakes.”

Gilbert said he “would consider more in the future” and said the program is a “low cost way to give it a try.”

Timing of the seeding will be important so it can be established in the fall, he said, but not too early where it uses the nutrients it is supposed to merely tie up until spring.

Gilbert has seen seeding done by aerial application or with a highboy. “It is better to get the seed out early,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert heard of the program while attending a meeting of the South Fork Watershed that is made up of Hardin, Hamilton, and parts of Franklin and Wright counties, through which the south fork of the Iowa River flows.

Gilbert said there are an estimated 1.5 million hogs in the watershed and planting a cover crop is ideal after liquid manure is injected, since it is unstable when in solution form.

The winter hardy cover crop program “helps protect the soil” and “was not designed for one kind of farmer or another,” said Gilbert.

NRCS incentive

To encourage participation, $200,000 was made available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. This special funding allowed participants to receive a higher payment rate.

Up to three years of payments for planting winter-hardy cover crops can be received with approval of their application.

David Brommel, of the NRCS in Des Moines, said the cover crop program has the benefits of storing nutrients to keep them from reaching the water supply and providing wildlife habitat.

Brommel reported there was good participation in the signup and that the $200,000 will be allocated to those wanting to join the program.

The Practical Farmers of Iowa said that cover crops have the advantages of reducing soil erosion, limiting nitrogen leaching, suppressing weeds, increasing soil organic matter and improving overall soil quality.

Cover crops that are winter-hardy include red and sweet clover, cereal rye, winter wheat, triticale and hairy vetch.

When small grains are used as cover crops they can increase surface cover, anchor residues in corn and soybean fields and reduce erosion while increasing water infiltration.

Contact Clayton Rye at crye@wctatel.net.

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