On July 17, AJ and Kellie Blair of Dayton, Iowa hosted a field day to discuss their experience with cover crops. Topics ranged from how the crops can benefit crop rotations, nitrogen levels, and livestock operations. The Practical Farmers of Iowa hosted the event and presented research results from across the state and explained options to other farmers who are interested in incorporating cover crops on their operations.
The Blair’s raise corn, soybeans, cattle, pigs and cover crops. The cover crop operation initially started 10 years ago as a trial to learn more about their effect on a small scale, but the Blair’s have continued to expand their cover crop acres each year. While they first used cover crops for grazing cattle, they have now expanded to using the rye and sorghum for feed and bedding. They also harvest some rye for seed, so they can plant their own as needed.
Some benefits they’ve noticed are improved soil structure, more field days and less weed pressure. They also take water samples and have noticed a decline in the nitrate levels near the fields they have implemented cover crops continually. Having their rye field also gives them a place to apply manure over the summer when it can’t be incorporated into other fields, which means they don’t need to store the manure at any point throughout the year.
While they have seen a very slight decrease in yield of corn and soybeans following a cover crop, the Blair’s say they will continue the operation because there is still a positive economic and environmental impact. By using cover crops they can utilize their acres for a longer period and implement them into their livestock operation in diverse ways, while also seeing less nutrient leaching.
If you are interested in learning more about cover crops, check out these helpful resources:
Practical Farmers of Iowa: https://www.practicalfarmers.org/member-priorities/cover-crops/
Iowa State University Cover Crop Guide: https://store.extension.iastate.edu/product/Iowa-Cover-Crop-Resource-Guide