Farmers are Covering Iowa

Written by Shannon Moeller, Project Coordinator for the Iowa Seed Corn Cover Crops Initiative.

The Iowa Seed Corn Cover Crops Initiative is a new Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Water Quality Initiative project that will run through 2018. This project is through the Iowa Seed Association in collaboration with the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Corn Growers Association, and the Soil and Water Conservation Society.

This project seeks to increase the number of cover crops in seed corn production acres around the State of Iowa through outreach efforts and cost-share opportunities for growers. In the project’s first year, nine seed corn companies chose to partner with us in this effort and promote the use of cover crops among their growers. This resulted in cost-share for over 36,000 acres among 175 growers in 24 counties across Iowa.

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Seed corn production acres are a great location for cover crops for many reasons. Seed corn has a shorter growing season than commercial corn. Depending on the weather, which varies from year to year, harvest can start before Labor Day and is often finished before the end of September. During the summer growing season, there are many trips across the field with sprayers and detasslers. In July, every 5th row is typically mowed down because those are the “male rows” and are no longer needed after pollination. End rows are often taken out earlier than the rest of the field, as well. This can leave a seed corn field compacted and often with little residue after harvest, which is much less than for commercial corn fields.

Because the seed corn plants are shorter and there are gaps every few rows, aerial application and interseeding methods for cover crop use can be quite successful in seed corn acres. Sunlight is abundant, and so as long as there is a timely rain, those fields can be green with cover crops by the time the rest of the field is harvested. There’s also time to drill cover crops or to broadcast them with fall fertilizer after harvest. This is because seed corn harvest is often over at least a few days before commercial corn and soybean harvest begins.

I am currently travelling throughout Iowa to different counties and visiting with growers – many of whom are new to cover crops. With each stop, I am taking photos of cover crops at various growth stages in different areas. This is to capture the successes these growers are having in promoting their soil health and improving water quality at the same time.

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