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It’s cover cropping for forage, profit

By Staff | Oct 6, 2015



JEFFERSON – Raising small grains has become a niche market for Jefferson area farmer Bill Frederick and his wife, Melissa.

The couple said it was looking for a way to not only increase the bottom dollar, but to help increase the usage of the farm and pasture land, with conservation in mind.

Frederick farms with his parents, Al and Anne Frederick. They have been raising small grain seed for sale and for use on their farm for several years.

-Farm News photo by Kriss Nelson THIS COVER CROP mix of turnips, kale, oats and rye was seeded early August and is now being used for pasture for cattle. Cattleman Bill Frederick looks over the growth.

Frederick said they have been raising wheat seed for more than five years and rye seed for two years.

They market their seed for cover cropping not only for themselves, but for neighbors as well.

“We both love small grains, they are fun to raise,” said Frederick. “We are smaller farmers and we need to get creative with markets.”

Currently, Frederick said, the plan is to harvest the small grains and then plant a forage mix immediately after, which gives them additional forage options for their cattle.

Getting into the small grains business was fairly easy for the Frederick family, as they found they didn’t need to invest in any new equipment and were able to use what they already had.

“We used a lot of our existing equipment,” Frederick said. “We did buy a windrower, but there wasn’t much spent on that, and we use the existing storage we have.”

Being from a conservation-minded farming family that already practices no-till, the use of cover crops came easy to the Fredericks.

“We have always been conservation-minded, we figure what’s good for the water is good for everybody,” said Frederick. “We enjoy fishing and kayaking, so we need to take care of the water, and anytime we can build up organic matter in the soil is good, too.”

Another benefit to cover crops, Frederick said, is the additional grazing his cattle get from an additional crop.

For their pasture, Frederick said they will drill their small grains in the fall as soon as harvest is complete.

By the second week of July 2016, he said they will combine and bale the crop, then immediately drill a forage mix.

As soon as that forage mix is ready, after six weeks or so, he will turn his cattle out to pasture.

One particular mix he is using this late summer and early fall is a combination of turnips, kale, oats and rye.

Their cover crop is usually seeded by using a Hagie sprayer that has been converted to seed cover crops or applied from the air before their corn or soybean harvest begins in the fall.

Their cover crops, he said, usually consists of wheat, rye and turnips.

When it comes to cover cropping, Frederick recommended killing it as soon possible before corn and soybean planting.

And when it comes to developing a niche market for personal farms, such as raising wheat and rye seed, they recommended talking to others, do research and know what to expect.

“Have realistic expectations,” he said. “I followed my dad, but we try to learn and experiment and use resources like Practical Farmers of Iowa and neighbors.

“Find a network that has proven these ways work. Resources can save you a lot of money if you listen to them.”

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