Home 5 Ag Stories Landowners spearhead cover crop movement

Landowners spearhead cover crop movement

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Iowa

Sometimes it is not easy to adjust to new practices. We have long followed the adage, “If it is not broke, do not fix it.” However, what do you do when it is not broke, but someone asks you to change?

An Iowa couple is leading the charge for additional implementation of cover crops.

Al and Ruth Schafbuch, of Dysart, incorporate ‘cover crops’ into their lease agreements.

The Schafbuchs rented land to young farmers, who practiced strip-till and no-till, and saw an opportunity to push other sustainable land practices. So, they seeded cover crops on half of their land and left the other half bare, demonstrating the differences to their tenants.

At first, Al and Ruth did not see benefits reaching beyond soil health. They also realized the practice was somewhat costly. However, they felt this practice was good environmental stewardship. So they made a deal with their tenant.

“When we first started, we couldn’t see the benefits aside from saving the soil and it was a big expense,” Ruth said. “We felt it wasn’t fair for the young farmers to have to expense seed and application without getting a third crop or any benefits back. So we decided to give them a discount to help pay for the seed. It’s (been) a very successful program.”

Al says having an open line of communication between the landlord and tenant has helped make this agreement successful. He encourages landowners to consider incorporating this practice into their lease agreements, as he believes it will soon become a standard farming practice.

“This is going to change. As we go forward and see the benefits of this, this is going to be the standard. Everybody’s going to want to do this,” Al said. “This will bring land more money and rent will be greater because we we get the soil working for us. Tillage destroys soil. Period.”

Ruth believes education is key, when it comes to new farming practices. She talks about how farming has changed over the past few decades, and how we can become better stewards of the land.

“Farming practices have changed, especially since (Al) started 60 years ago. He tells the story of: When his dad went down the road – If a field was plowed and there were cornstalks sticking up, that’s a bad farmer. Now, if the soil is all black and tilled, we tend to think he’s a poor farmer because he’s not saving the soil. The soil washes down, and affects our water quality and air quality.”

Ruth also warns producers,” If we aren’t careful, the government will step in and tell us we have to do these practices.” She encourages other farmers to, at the very least, try cover crops to see if they work for them.