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Cover crops an option for unplanted row-crop acres

By Staff | Jun 20, 2013

DES MOINES – Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey encouraged farmers on June 14 to consider planting a cover crop, building conservation practices or doing both on land they have been unable to plant this year due to the historically wet weather.

“This has been the wettest spring on record, and as a result a significant part of our state’s corn and soybean crops have not yet been planted,” Northey said. “It is critically important that farmers work with their crop insurance agent to understand all their planting options.

“If farmers use prevented planting I encourage them to consider using a cover crop, building conservation practices or, better yet, doing both, on their impacted land this year.”

The final planting date for full crop insurance coverage in Iowa for corn is May 31 and for soybeans is June 15.

After these dates farmers have several options, one being to leave the land idle. Planting a cover crop in this instance can help prevent erosion and ties up the nutrients in the soil and reduces the potential for them to move into the state’s rivers, lakes and streams.

“Through this difficult situation, farmers with unplanted fields will have to weigh their program and insurance options,” said Barb Stewart, state agronomist with NRCS in Iowa. “We encourage producers to also assess agronomic options for ensuring long-term productivity.”

Stewart said planting a cover crop will help producers with unplanted fields capture applied nutrients, fix nitrogen, build organic matter, control weeds, reduce erosion and improve soil health and biology during the remainder of the season.

“Iowa farmers can build considerable yield potential for following year crops,” she said.

Cover crop selection and management should focus on maximizing both above- and below-ground biomass, Stewart said.

This allows for nutrient cycling as deep in the soil profile as possible.

Farmers unable to grow a crop this year may also want to consider building additional conservation practices on the impacted land, such as terraces, grass waterways, sediment control basins and others.

These practices can be built this year during the growing season without impacting a growing crop.

Farmers can work with their local USDA Service Center and Soil and Water Conservation District to find more information about cover crops and conservation practice construction.

In addition, Iowa’s USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service recently developed a fact sheet for planting cover crops on prevented planting fields.

The fact sheet includes a table with diverse cover crop mixes to address specific natural resource concerns.

This fact sheet is available in the agronomy section of NRCS’ website at www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov, at a local NRCS office.

Farmers seeking more information about their crop insurance options should contact their local provider or the USDA-Risk Management Agency’s St. Paul, Minn., regional office at (651) 290-3304.

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