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Farmers explore green fields of cover crops

By Staff | Dec 12, 2016

LYTTON – More than 35 farmers and others toured a pair of fall cover crop fields Nov. 10 in the Lytton area.

At the first stop, Wes Degner told the crowd how he started feeding cover crops to his cows, the cover crop species he was using, and how he made them work for his operation.

Degner raises corn and soybeans with his father Dennis, but he also has his own cow herd.

“Putting cows on cover crops makes this practice worth it,” Degner said, “and I probably wouldn’t do much cover-cropping if I didn’t reap these benefits.”

For two years Degner said he’s been aerially seeding a cereal rye cover crop into 67 acres of corn and soybeans around Labor Day, then grazing his 31 cows on them from early October to mid-November.

WES?DEGNER talks about his experiences with grazing cover crops during a Nov. 10 field day on his Greene County farm.

“I worked out the math and think I saved about $3,000 in feed costs by letting cattle graze the rye and corn stalks,” he said. “The cost savings pay for the cover crop and at the same time we’re protecting water quality and fertilizing our fields.”

The field tour then continued to the farm of Ben Albright, who raises cattle in several feedlots and has been aerial seeding and drilling cereal rye and oats into soybeans and corn.

The first year he planted cover crops, he tried to bale them in the spring, but it didn’t go well because they were too wet.

He said that grazing has worked much better and now he is in his second year of this practice.

Albright took questions from the audience about how to get cover crops established, when to put cattle out to graze, and how much of his feed ration he can reduce.

While standing in a field of knee-high rye and oats he addressed concerns about soil compaction from cattle grazing crop fields.

A Lake City farmer in the audience, Mark Schleisman, who plants and grazes 1,000 acres of cover crops, said, “I think we’ve been too scared about compaction; I’ve noticed that it’s not been that big of a deal.

“The cover crop roots really decrease the presence of compaction and the fields that were grazed turn out to be my best looking fields.”

Both Albright and Degner work with Practical Farmers of Iowa in a project supported by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. They are looking for water quality solutions that also help farmers’ investigate methods for making conservation more cost-effective.

Cover crops are an important practice for improving water quality.

“Even if we don’t get government cost-share for cover crops,” Degner said, “we now know we can continue planting and grazing cover crops because the costs are offset by feeding less hay to our cows.”

Additional PFI-sponsored meetings and farminars concerning cover crops this fall include:

A). Farminar: Graze and Bale: Cover Crops as Forage, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 6. James Holz and Bill Frederick will talk about how they use cover crops for cow-calf pairs and feedlot cattle production in this free online webinar. www.practicalfarmers.org/news-events/events/farminars.

B). Conference session: Grazing Cover Crops, from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 21, 2017 during the PFI Annual Conference. Mark Schleisman will share his experience with seasonal grazing of cover crops in an intense crop and livestock production operation. He will discuss how grazing cover crops benefits the soil and subsequent crops while offsetting costs. practicalfarmers.org/2017-annual-conference.

C). Research report: Economic Benefits from Utilizing Cover Crops as Forage. Read the research report about Albright, Degner and other farmers in the North Raccoon watershed available online at practicalfarmers.org/farmer-knowledge/research-reports/2016/economic-benefits-utilizing-cover-crops-forage.

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