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PFI tells farmers "Don't Farm Naked. Plant Cover Crops."

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

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

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BOONE, Iowa — Practical Farmers of Iowa's display, "Don't Farm Naked. Plant Cover Crops." wasn't talking about how many clothes farmers wear, it was aimed at covering bare soil during winter.

The theme brought chuckles at the recent Farm Progress Show.

Rick Juchems, who farms near Plainfield, and Mark Peterson, a Red Oak farmer, worked at PFI's booth.

"It's attracting a lot of comments," Juchems said. "I think the naked part gets their attention."

"I tell them you don't want to farm naked because you might lose your posterior," Peterson said with a grin.

Joking aside, Peterson and Juchems said there is a lot of interest in cover crops.

"Guys are looking for rye seed," Juchems said.

"Rye is in somewhat short supply according to what the suppliers are telling us, but not everyone needs rye," Peterson said. "There are other possibilities. Some folks are planting turnips and tillage radish. If someone asks me what they should plant, I tell them that I need to know where they're from and what they want to accomplish. Are they trying to save soil, build organic matter, save or build nitrogen? Do they want extra grazing or haylage for livestock? Cover crops are not one size fits all."

Peterson said PFI tries to point farmers in the right direction. He said that use of cover crops has grown annually but this year there is even more interest.

"I hear three things from people who come in here," Peterson said. "It's terribly dry. The crops are coming out early. More silage is being chopped exposing the ground quicker. Guys are running out of hay, and they need more forage for winter. Interest in cover crops is very high. Some guys have said that they have their first cover crops planted already."

Peterson's farming operation consists of a 50/50 corn-soybean rotation. He will plant cover crops for the first time this fall.

"In late March or early April we had a real heavy rain and it just washed all kinds of soil around everywhere," Peterson said. "I decided to give cover crops a try this year because I am tired of looking at all the soil that's washing off our farm. It makes me sick to see it happening. I feel I must become a better steward."

Peterson is running a cover crop trial for PFI. On soybean ground that will be rotated to corn, he is seeding crimson clover and cereal rye. Some will be aerial applied. The rest he will drill in as soon as the crop comes out to see if there's a difference between aerial application and drilling.

He will compare strips of ground with cover crops to ground without to see if he can reduce nitrogen because of the crimson clover.

On ground coming out of corn and going to beans, he's thinking of seeding oats to hold the soil and tie up the nitrogen that didn't get used this year so that he can keep it around.

Juchems was going to fly on oats after beans this year but dry as it is, he backed out and will try again next year.

He will continue to plant rye into corn stalks for an Iowa Learning Farm demonstration.

"Cover crops hold soil to prevent erosion and improve water quality," Juchems said. "They hold nutrients close to the soil surface and available for next year's crop. Rye also acts as a herbicide to keep weeds down. Cover crops are a good thing to do to keep soil in place."

Peterson said that it's not too late to consider planting cover crops this fall.

"But you do need to get in gear," he said.