We have recently seen a push towards more “non-traditional” farming practices.
A north central Iowa farmer talks about his decision to diversify his operation.
Steve Anderson, of Beaman, Iowa, first integrated cover crops in his operation five years ago. Anderson grows seed corn, as well as commercial corn and soybeans. He says the challenges he faced after seed corn production led him to adopt cover crops.
“Over the years, we’ve seen erosion occurring on our seed corn acres because there’s less dry matter produced on the inbred crop. Because of that – there was no way to be 100-percent covered. We started for that reason. Now we’re starting to see benefits of nutrients being tied up and less erosion. It’s been a win,” Anderson said.
However, Anderson now sees cover crops as more than soil health benefits.
“I saw the benefits first, and (was) sold. Now, I feel obligated to continue because I know it’s the right thing to do,” Anderson said. “People are noticing, talking to me and bringing it up. I don’t feel like i have to defend myself anymore because it looks like I’m doing the right thing. They don’t seem to be criticizing me like they would have when I was younger and farming the ‘old way.’ Plus, I have a new generation of kids coming into the operation. If we don’t save what topsoil we have left, there won’t be anything left for them to farm.”
Anderson continues to “experiment” with cover crops, after a handful of years. He speaks to his adoption of this practice, as well as changes he has made over the years.
“This last year we used a mix of rye, radish and oats,” Anderson said. “We started out with just radish. We used rye at times. (We) never did oats, until we started blending them. It worked out well. We’ll probably do something different again this year.”
Anderson offers these words to farmers who are still “on the fence” about cover crops.
“All you have to do is drive up and down the road and compare fields, fall or spring for that matter,” Anderson said. “I can easily point to fields that were conventionally tilled across from my fields that were cover cropped. The ditches aren’t full of silt next to my field, whereas there is obvious silt flow out of the field into the road ditches.”
Anderson also says “patience is key,” when it comes to working with cover crops.
“Things don’t always look like they’re going to work right, but in the long run if you manage it properly, it will work out,” Anderson said.