Annette Sweeney is shown with USDA Secretary, Sonny Perdue. Sweeney was recently named state director for the USDA Rural Development in Iowa.
BY LAURA CARLSON
SLATER – An overflow crowd filled the Nelson Park Cabin in Slater for a lunch program on cover crops in Iowa with Risk Management Field Day, hosted by Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Farmers Union, and the Iowa Environmental Council.
Welcome and opening remarks were given by Iowa Environmental Council Agriculture Policy Director Ann Robinson. She introduced Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, who spoke to the audience of crop insurance agencies, farmers, land owners and other professionals at the field day.
“This is a unique partnership between public and private groups each providing different skill sets to plan and implement conservation projects in Iowa,” Naig said. “We need to do more stuff between Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Farmers Union, Practical Farmers and the Department of Agriculture. Ag Secretary Bill Northey is out completing his 99-county tour to stay in touch with you all as well. These field days allow a time to learn from others and their mistakes as we learn our way through this program.”
When questioned about who can participate in the state cost share program and the future budget for the cost share program, Naig said the entire state of Iowa is eligible “provided the land works for the cover crops. And no other state is doing what Iowa is doing here, other states are watching this idea very closely. This is a three-year pilot program funded by the legislature for 1 million dollars. Our goal is as many acres as possible using cover crops to improve soil health and water quality.”
Aaron Lehman, a fifth-generation farmer from the Slater area, has been adding oats, rye, alfalfa, and clover over the past few years into his conventional and organic corn and soybean fields.
“It was an experiment to begin with, and when benefits were seen, we slowly implemented more cover crops. We are still learning how to use them most effectively,” said Lehman.
Following a brief slide show of the equipment used and overhead field photos comparing airplane seeded and High-Boy seeding of fields, Lehman turned the program over to Sarah Carlson, cover crop expert from Practical Farmers.
“Why is the Cornbelt ‘leaky'” asked Carlson during the Practical Farmer Cover Crop research slide program. “Our land loses the most nitrogen in the spring and fall when there is no crop on the ground. Cover crops prevent that loss and are cost effective.”
Following the presentations, the audience was invited to tour the Lehman fields south of Slater for a personal look at the cover crops growing in both corn and soybean fields.
Lehman said he is using cover crops in both organic and conventional fields.
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