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Time to take cover

Jordan Anderson 10/17/2013 @ 2:28pm Digital Content Editor for Successful Farming magazine and Agriculture.com

Talk about cover crops has been imminent in the Midwest this year.  Iowa State University professors say now is the time to be planting cover crops to conserve soil and nutrients.

Assistant professor of horticulture, Ajay Nair, discussed the immense benefits that cover crops can present.  

“One of the most important things to understand is at the end of the growing season, we don’t want the land to be left uncovered,” Nair said. “If that happens, rain and snow in the fall and winter will take away topsoil. The cover crops reduce erosion, suppress weed germination, add organic matter and stimulate soil microbial activity.” 

Cover crops recycle nutrients, especially nitrogen, by taking it into the plant to store until cover crops are tilled in the fall, in which the nitrogen is released back into the soil for cash crops to utilize.

There are various cover crops available, but cereal rye is most common due to its ability to germinate in the cold weather (as low as 38 degrees Fahrenheit) conditions of the Midwest. 

Educating the landowners

ISU Greenelee School of Journalism professors have been looking into spreading the word of cover crops in Iowa.

“We found a huge portion of the audience isn’t being reached. Women landowners want to know these things; it’s just no one is looking at them,” said Michael Dahlstrom, an assistant professor in journalism. “We wanted to bring them into the conversation because once they have the information they can make decisions that will have a huge impact on the state.” 

In collaboration with Women, Food and Agriculture, brochures on cover crops were developed by Dahlstrom and Joel Geske, an associate professor of journalism, and distributed to nearly 120 women who farm a combined 24,300 acres in Iowa.  Over 50% of these women took one or more of the steps recommended in the brochure to initiate a cover crop system.

“One of Iowa’s greatest assets is its soil. So to be able to do something to educate landowners and help protect the soil is good for the state,” said Geske 

With the assistance of a $500,000 USDA grant to focus on soil health overall, Geske, Dahlstrom, and Women, Food and Agriculture are looking to expand this educational opportunity to seven Midwestern states – potentially reaching 311,000 acres of female-farmed land.

Source: www.news.iastate.edu

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Improving Soil Health