Jesse Stewart talked with Iowa farmer and member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, Mark Peterson, about the use of cover crops and why it’s important. Listen back to the interview below and also read the press release after that.
We Don’t Perform Well When Hungry, Cold & Exposed—Neither Does Our Land
More Iowa farmers are adding cover crops to their soil management by starting with three simple steps.
Des Moines, IA – The understanding and practice of cover cropping is growing. More farmers are planting cover crops in coordination with their soil management and cash crops to prevent wind and water erosion, reduce the soils’ nutrient loss and leaching, and improve soil health and quality. Ask a family farmer in Iowa, and they will tell you how today’s agriculture is enhanced by cover crops—while their livestock grazes on the covers above the ground, worms and microbes graze below the surface improving the productivity of the soil. Farmers, young and old, are appreciating both the economic and ecological benefits.
Throughout agricultural history, farmers have taken advantage of the many benefits of using cover crops. During the Roman Empire, Greek and Roman farmers used legume cover crops to improve soil quality in their vineyards. In the late 1700s, lupines were used throughout northern Europe to improve sandy soils. By the 1860s, cover crops were common practice in American agriculture. Cover crops remained so until the 1950s when synthetic fertilizers became readily available for providing nutrients to crops for enhancing soil fertility. Conventional agriculture and cropland management changed significantly.
Today, we are seeing a return to cover cropping to reduce fertilizer costs, to benefit soil quality and prevent erosion, to conserve soil moisture, improve yields, protect water quality, and to help safeguard personal health and the value of the land. “These days, it’s not all about chemicals and fertilizer,” said Iowa farmer, Mark Peterson. “But, once you do it all, the soil’s health explodes,” Peterson added.
Terry Aukes is an agronomist, a Cover Crop Champion and Cooperative Farmers Elevator member and sales manager. CFE is a progressive, farmer-owned cooperative that services local farms and rural business owners in the areas of agronomy, feed, grain, lumber, and energy. Terry has over 20 years of farming and retail sales. He actively works with growers to show them the benefits of using and adopting cover crops. Terry leads by example on his own farm in Larchwood in northwest Iowa by using cover crops in a variety of application methods for over eight years.
Mark Peterson, an active member of Practical Farmers of Iowa and Cover Crop Champion, is a conventional farmer near Stanton in southwest Iowa. “We farm about 350 acres where we mostly grow corn and soybeans and a little hay, along with some CRP lands. We do no-till, and during the past few years I started adding cover crops. I believe that the benefits of cover crops, such as preventing soil erosion, improving soil organic matter, and potentially providing extra nitrogen to next year’s crop, all far outweigh the risks of planting them. At the same time, I understand the hesitation to try cover crops for those who are new to this practice. That is why I feel I can speak to them effectively and exchange the information that they might need before deciding to try incorporating cover crops on their farms. I’ve been an active member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, and with them I’ve staffed a booth at several farm shows to reach out to fellow Iowa farmers to talk about the benefits of cover crops and answer their questions. I’ve also hosted and spoke at field days sponsored by Practical Farmers on the topics of cover crops. Finally, I’ve had about five radio spotlights last fall where I talked about upcoming events related to cover crops, as well as the benefits of and tips on planting cover crops.”
RESOURCES FOR FARMERS:
- For general information for farmers on using cover crops and finding experts in their area, please see the Midwest Cover Crops Council at www.mccc.msu.edu ;
- For national events to learn more about cover crops, please see the Soil and Water Conservation Society’s 2017 National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil health:http://www.swcs.org/en/conferences/2017_national_conference_on_cover_crops/
- For farmers to speak with other farmers about cover crops and soil health, please see Become a Cover Crop Champion! http://blog.nwf.org/2017/09/become-a-cover-crop-champion/