This represents a significant change from the traditional practice where companies wanted farmers growing seed to use extensive tillage to help control the insects and diseases that might be a concern for the coming year.
Growing seed corn is hard on a field, in part because the detassling process requires extra trips across the field — resulting in increased soil compaction over time, according to Shannon Moeller, project coordinator of the Iowa Seed Corn Cover Crop Initiative.
Because growing seed corn leaves less organic matter and residue in the soil after harvest, it presents a unique opportunity for farmers to seed a cover crop in addition to growing seed corn. The roots of covers help take up leftover nitrogen in the soil. This initiative is working with seed corn growers to encourage the use of covers across the state and has been seeing great success. In 2018 more than 40,000 acres of cover crops were grown on seed-corn fields in Iowa, and 2019 is on track to surpass that.
Many seed-corn growers use winter varieties of covers and seed-corn fields are a great fit for cover crops. Seed-corn is typically harvested 4-6 weeks ahead of commercial fields, which gives growers a chance to seed cover crops quite a bit earlier than other fields.
Moeller says the majority of growers who have participated in the Iowa Seed Corn Cover Crop Initiative see the value of planting covers to the soil and do so on an annual basis, so the initiative has a 95% retention rate. Many of those producers have also begun growing covers not just on their seed-corn acres but also on commercial fields as well. More than 15% of 2019 project participants are first-time cover crop users.
So the next time you’re getting ready for planting season, be sure to say a small thank you to the growers who produced those seeds that start the entire supply chain for so many products. And if you’re raising seed corn, cover crops provide an opportunity for you to take care of the soil after you take care of business.