About twice a year I get asked these questions. "Angie, what are you doing to promote cover crops in north central Iowa? We just don't have many acres of cover crops up there." Or, "Angie, what can we do to get more cover crops in north central Iowa?" I usually chuckle at these questions, and for those of you who know me well, you know I have a response for everything.
Let's start with the first question, I usually respond that my job is not to promote cover crops, but to assist farmers who are interested in planting cover crops by offering input (based on research) when asked about the best way to start, different seeding methods, different species, management, termination concerns, and so forth. Yes, I truly believe cover crops can and do play a significant role in north central Iowa, from reducing erosion, both water and wind, nutrient cycling, and building soil health in certain farming systems, but certainly not every farming system. I try to be conscious of what your goals are for planting cover crops.
The second question, "what can we do to get more acres of cover crops in north central Iowa?" I have thoughts on that as well and they include: 1) we need several demonstration farms that provide easy access to all so farmers can come and see different things such as different seeding methods, various planting dates, and different species throughout the year and process how that might fit into their farming system; 2) we need a cadre of mentors, experienced farmers who are willing to spend time with farmers new to cover crops so they know what to expect or how to troubleshoot; 3) we need to provide training to our retailers on how best to terminate cover crops, timing, herbicide rates and what to expect and do when it does not go as intended; and 4) we need a better understanding by landlords and a partnership with those who own the land.
Those are my thoughts, what are your thoughts? I would love to be able to have a conversation with the agency folks who ask me those questions and adequately reflect your reasons on why or why not to plant cover crops. We might learn some insight and be able to offer better programs, better technical assistance, conduct more research that answers questions. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts. I promise to keep your thoughts anonymous.