Wide Row Cover Crop Demonstrations for Soil and Water Quality Improvement

Progress report for FNC22-1348

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $28,870.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Cedar Valley Innovation LLC
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Bob Recker
Cedar Valley Innovation LLC
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Project Information

Description of operation:

I have been aggressively pursuing improved farming practices on land owned by my various collaborators and others since my retirement from a Corporate job in 2008. My process has evolved thru No-Till farming, Strip Intercropping with a Corn/Bean system, to wide row corn for better sunlight utilization, which has led to a focus on cover crops to improve Water Quality by reduced runoff, and better soil health. My current efforts go back and forth between better, more effective cover crops, and higher corn yield to enable and encourage cover crop adoption. I am making progress; a number of others are following my lead, especially those with livestock to graze. I have no livestock in my operation. I am directly involved in approximately 110 acres and indirectly involved in management decisions for several thousand acres.


Cover Crops are known to improve soil and water quality, but adoption has been slower than desired. My 2021/2022 SARE Project, 
(FNC21-1297 - Demonstration of Utilization of Cover Crops in Wide Row Corn to Improve Soil Health Demonstration of the soil and water benefits of using widely spaced corn rows (60" or 90") to provide full season sunlight to cover, companion, and beneficial crops while maintaining near equivalent total field corn yields. Comparison strips will be used. Results will be shared in field days) referred to above, provided an opportunity for side-by-side comparison of 30” corn with no cover crop  vs. 90” Twin Row corn with an aggressive multi-species cover crop mix. Samples from those plots demonstrated a 56% reduction in water runoff, based on four replications. Equally importantly, the runoff water was cleaner. This project enables demonstration on more grower-owned plots with side-by-side replicated trials of various cover crop treatments. Reference imagery from 2021 below:

A key element of this work is for the plots to demonstrate alternative treatments on the grower's own property. For the results to be credible to the grower, the alternative practice should be compared directly to traditional practices. This is important to demonstrate any changes in cash crop yields, weed pressure, runoff water, and nutrient requirements. The risk to the grower's operations can be minimized by using small equipment to create small plots. This grant enables efficient and quick seeding of small plots with small equipment in grower fields, and provides measurement/demonstration equipment for end of season environmental impact information in additional to traditional yield measurements. 

Project Objectives:
  1. Compare cover crop vigor in wide (60 or 90") row corn plots on grower property vs. cover crop planted in traditional (20 or 30") rows.
  2. Document early season cover crop growth vs cash crop.
  3. Document differences in early, mid, and late season weed suppression in the various treatments.
  4. Measure water runoff differences in wide row cover crop spaces vs traditional row spaces.
  5. Measure yield differences in the various replicated trial treatments. 
  6. Record with imagery and measure differences in cover crop biomass in the various treatments. 


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Materials and methods:

I use my equipment to plant corn in much wider than normal rows. Traditional in this area is 30 inches; my work over the past several years was on 60 inch rows, and I am now moving to 90 in rows. There is a corn yield reduction, but a much greater, more healthy and lush cover crop possible due to the added sunlight. I drill in the cover crop right after planting, and often supplement it later in the season, followed by another application in the fall if needed. I try to not kill the cover, but rather co-exist with the corn crop. This is a bit risky but very beneficial to the cover crop and soil health. We are continuing to fine tune and share the process and the learning, including from dramatic failures!

Research results and discussion:

Please refer to the linked Power Point presentation for a full description. 

FNC21-1297 Progress-2022

This report was made to the Black Hawk County Soil and Water Conservation District meeting on 13 Dec 2022, and covers the work under this grant project well. 

Participation Summary
6 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

6 Farmers participated
4 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

I am active on facebook and YouTube with reports and updates of my work. 

The link below is to the YouTube playlist of 11 video files which were recorded at the field day on 30 September 2022. They are at:

I also have scheduled a Zoom meeting on 16 December which will be notified on Twitter, Facebook and by my e-mail list. My facebook postings are normally viewed by 120+ persons. 


Project Outcomes

3 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
2 New working collaborations

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.