Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) officials each year report an increased adoption of conservation practices, such as cover crops. However, there is still room for growth.
Today we focus on growth, which is dependent on one’s comfort level. One central Iowa farmer shares his experience with cover crops, which has led him to believe, “Cover crops have a place on every farm,” but not necessarily every acre.
Eric Engle, who farms in Grundy and Marshall Counties, recently started incorporating cover crops into his farming operation. In 2017, he seeded cereal rye onto an 80 acre plot, following seed corn harvest.
“What led to an interest in it is the fact that they had a cost-share program. To be honest with you, I don’t think that we would have tried it, if there hadn’t have been a cost-share, so it was a good incentive to get started. (I) had mixed feelings about it in ’17. I waited to plant until it was waist high. We got armyworm in it (and) then we got a fungus on the beans. My first year wasn’t that stellar of a cover crop,” Engle said.
Engle pushed forward, despite these challenges. He says, “It’s like anything you try. If you try it once and give up on it, you didn’t give it a fair shot.”
Engle increased his cover crop acres in the years following, and now estimates planting 200 to 400 acres of cereal rye annually. Engle now reaps the benefits of this practice, which include: “Weed control, moisture conservation, breaking up compaction without mechanical tillage, increased water infiltration of the soil, increased organic matter, and retain fertility on the farm.”
Engle only incorporates cover crops in fields going into soybean production, as that what he feels comfortable with. He believes “Cover crops have a place on every farm.” His mentality, however, does not suggest an “all or none” approach.”
“I would say there’s a place (for cover crops) on every farm in the state of Iowa. It’s a matter of if the grower wants to add another practice into their operation. It takes management, extra time in the fall to seed, and extra considerations to take into account. I think every acre in Iowa could benefit from a cover crop, but that doesn’t mean every acre, every farmer, and every operation is suited to do such a thing,” Engel said.