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Cover crop cost share funds now available

From news reports

Date Modified: 10/10/2012 1:07 PM

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AMES, Iowa — Practical Farmers of Iowa encourages farmers to sign up for cover crop funds newly authorized by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship as an eligible practice under Iowa's cost share program.

The emergency rule change, announced recently by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, allows cost sharing assistance of $25 per acre for planting a cover crop. Farmers interested in accessing these funds should visit their local county Natural Resources Conservation Service office.

With unused nitrogen left in soils from this summer's drought, cover crops can help capture that leftover fertility and store it until spring. Cover crops also help control erosion, protect water quality and boost soil's water-holding capacity. There's a catch, however: To be beneficial, cover crops must be planted soon, before expected autumn rains wash nitrogen away.

Eric Franzenburg of Pheasant Run Farm raises alternative crops, conventional corn and soybeans and farrow-to-finish hogs near Van Horne. For the past four years, he has planted a fall cover crop on one of his conventional row crop fields and says he has routinely observed higher yields in that field. In addition, he says that this year, in particular, the cover crop field showed noticeably less drought stress.

"We're using a combination of the cover crop – winter rye – with swine manure," Franzenburg said. "It appears that the cover crop is able to hold those nutrients in the root zone for the corn crop the following year – which is one of the reasons we plant cover crops. We haven't harvested anything yet, but the field we put the cover crop on has borne the dry conditions pretty well. The crop is in pretty good health – and when we did a yield estimate, it looks like the field that had the cover crop will yield much higher than our other fields."

Franzenburg says farmers thinking about signing up for the cover crop cost share funds can't go wrong in planting a cover crop – and the $25 per acre assistance will defray most expenses.

"That amount more than covers your seed and planting cost," Franzeburg says. "You might have a little extra cost that you'll have to pay, but $25 per acre would cover most of your costs."

While IDALS has authorized the rule change, each individual Soil and Water Conservation District has the final say whether it will offer cost share assistance for cover crops. And, in order to quality for cost share, the practice must meet NRCS specifications.

For more information about cover crops or the state program contact Sarah Carlson, Practical Farmers of Iowa research and policy director, at the Cover Crop Hotline, (515) 232-5661, or by email at sarah@practicalfarmers.org.