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Northeast Iowa farmer hopes to find dollar value in cover crops this growing season

Waverly farmer Mark Mueller talks about benefits with the Soil Health Partnership. Photo by Ben Nuelle.

by Ben Nuelle LISTEN: World of Agriculture 5-25-16

A northeast Iowa farmer hopes to find a dollar value on cover crops this growing season. Mark Mueller grows corn and soybeans near Waverly, Iowa. He is a member of the Soil Health Partnership. The project focuses on making agriculture more sustainable and productive through improving soil health. Mueller says he’s participating in a study where he’s been planting strips of Rye grain for a few years.

“In between those strips, which are about 150 feet wide and a half mile long. We have strips of equal size of no Rye grain and that is what we are doing for five years in a row. At the end of five years, we’re going to test the soil quality through something called the Hanes Test. In the end, we’re trying to figure out what the value of a cover crop brings to a field.”

Mueller says he sees some value to it but it’s hard to put a dollar on that value.

“I see better weed control. I see improved soil conditions. I see reduced compaction. But for me to put a dollar amount on that is what we’re trying to find out. That’s the final goal of the Soil Health Partnership which is to put a value on the cover crops.”

He says he wanted to start growing cover crops for himself and not because of the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit.

“It’s a problem that has taken generations to develop. It’s not going to be solved with the snap of the fingers or just stopping nitrogen use altogether. It’s going to take years for the problem to go away. We need to be proactive. I’m trying to get farmers to adopt these practices such as cover crops, no till and a few other things before they’re legislated.”