Farmer field school approach to increasing cover crop adoption in Iowa and Minnesota

2010 Annual Report for LNC09-313

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $174,295.73
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Practical Farmers of Iowa
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Sarah Carlson
Practical Farmers of Iowa

Farmer field school approach to increasing cover crop adoption in Iowa and Minnesota


The project will increase adoption of cover crops and support the transition toward more continuous living cover. Cover crops are a useful management tool for enhancing the sustainability of annual cropping systems A wealth of information exists about the benefits, challenges and production recommendations for using cover crops, and we are developing a new decision-making tool for farmers when choosing a cover crop species. But even with this knowledge lack of adoption is prevalent. This project will not only disseminate information to farmers and key participants through farmer field schools with hands on experience and practice with the crop, field days and workshops to tell neighbors about cover crops, but also incorporate farmers’ wealth of on-farm knowledge into a decision-making tool which will provide information for farmers in the entire NCR-SARE area. This work will be evaluated through feedback surveys, number of attendees, number of farmer inquiries about cover crops, increased number of acres and increased awareness and knowledge of cover crops by key audience participants. This campaign will give farmers the opportunity to be leaders in disseminating this information to others and relies on a proven method of learning through farmer to farmer networking.

Objectives/Performance Targets

• Complete four farmer-led introductory Cover Crop Listening Sessions to gauge farmer awareness and knowledge level and to disseminate agronomic information on cover crops.
• Conduct 15 on-farm demonstration and research trials on cover crops.
• Hold three field days utilizing research sites.
• Develop and disseminate four cover crop stories


• Three farmers reported their 2009 On-farm Results at PFI Cooperators Meeting in February 2010.

• 11 farmers presented about cover crops during PFI’s regularly scheduled field days as well as several other events by other groups. A total of 789 people attended these events.

1. Thursday, April 22 George Schaefer Grazing Cover Crops
2. Tuesday, April 27 ISU Agronomy Farm Cover Crops Research
3. Wednesday, June 2 Mark Pokorny Cover Crop Management 101
4. Friday, June 18 Jeff Klinge Water Quality Issues: Transitioning to Organic Production
5. Wednesday, June 23 Hickory Grove Watershed farmer meeting
6. Wednesday, July 7 Montgomery County Water Quality Conservation Day
7. Tuesday, July 27 Ann Smeltzer Trust “Stewards of our Water”
8. Saturday, July 31 Mustard Seed Community Farm Cover Crops in Veggie Plots
9. Saturday, Aug 14, 2010 Iowa State Fair
10. Thursday, Aug 19, 2010 Pocahontas County Cover Crop Management 101

11. Thursday, Aug 26, 2010 Palo Alto County Cover Crop Management 101
12. Friday, Aug 27, 2010 Johnson County Cover Crop Management 101
13. Tuesday, Sept 14, 2010 Webster County MRBI field practices 101

• Hosted four field days in Minnesota (Rural Advantage)

1. Wednesday, May 12, Lewiston Cover Crop Field Day
2. Wednesday, May 19, St. James Cover Crop Field Day
3. Monday, August 23, Cover Crops and Alfalfa Mulch Walk-n-Talk
4. Thursday, September 23, Le Sueur County Cover Crop Field Day

• Linked Iowa groups and Iowa farmers interested in cover crops to the Midwest Cover Crops Council during Midwest Cover Crops Council meeting held March 2-4 in Ames, Iowa. Three members of Practical Farmers of Iowa (1,000-acre no-till conventional farm, a 600-acre organic grain and livestock operation, and a two-acre vegetable farm) presented on how they use cover crops in their operations.

• 27 cooperators have started and have been continuing research and demonstration on cover crops

1. 11 cooperators are testing cover crops’ effect on crop yield
2. Four cooperators are grazing cover crops
3. Two cooperators are testing new species of cover crops (tillage radish)
4. Five cooperators are aerial seeding cover crops
5. Two cooperators are overseeding cover crops, using our Hagie Highboy
6. Three cooperators are using cover crops in horticulture systems.

• Conducted cover crops surveys at three different field days hosted by Iowa State University Extension, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Soybean Association, Nature Conservancy and NRCS on July 29, August 19, and September 14, 2010. The total number of respondents was 129.

• Published five cover crop media stories and developed Cover Crop Business Directory which helps farmers to find seed houses in the Upper Midwest that sell cover crop seed, aerial applicators who can fly on the cover crop in the fall and custom sprayers who could kill the cover crop in the spring.
1. Carlson, Sarah. 2010. Cover Crops are Fifth. The Practical Farmer vol. 25N1 14-15.
2. Worley, Sally. 2010. 2009 Research Results. The Practical Farmer vol. 25N2 6-7.
3. Dietzel, Kevin. 2010. Grazing Cover Crops (Oh My). The Practical Farmer vol. 25N3 14-15.
4. Carlson, Sarah. 2010. Aerial Seeding Cover Crops. Wallaces Farmer August 2010
5. Dietzel, Kevin. 2010. Grazing Cover Crops. Wallaces Farmer September 2010
6. Ogawa, Tomoko. 2010. Cover Crop Business Directory.

In addition, Rural Advantage published the following media stories.
One print publication
1. Newsletter – “Worthington Regional Office – Regional Report – April/May/June/July/August 2010” September 15

Six press releases/Email listserves
1. Cover Crop Acres Needed press release, April 21
2. Lewiston and St. James Cover Crop Field Days press release, April 29
3. Cover Crop Acres Needed press release, July 14
4. Cover Crop and Alfalfa Mulch Field Day press release, August 9
5. Le Sueur County Field Day press release, September 8

One Television spotlight
1. KEYC Channel 12 – Regional Spotlight, April 27
One Radio spotlight
1. KSUM 1370 AM Ag Country, July 22
One internet story
1. “BWSR Featured Project – Outreach effort promotes conservation practices that protect and restore water quality”, August

• Held 10 listening sessions (Rural Advantage)
1. March 1, Martin County Corn and Soybean Day (Fairmont, MN)
2. March 8, Southeast Minnesota Cover Crop Meeting (Rochester, MN) June 23, Wheat Day Walk-n-Talk (Kilkenny, MN)
3. July 7, On-Farm Field Day: Agronomic Management for Alfalfa-Corn Rotations (Lakefield, MN)
4. July 27, University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center Crop Day (Lamberton, Minnesota)
5. August 3-5, Farmfest (Morgan, MN)
6. September 13, Winter Wheat Workshop (Fairmont, MN)
7. September 14, Cottonwood Conservation Day – An Agricultural and Urban Focus (Windom, MN)
8. October 4-6, UMN Extension Fall Program Conference (Bloomington, MN)
9. December 6, UMN and UWI Extension Forage Days (St. Charles, MN)

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Increased Momentum for Cover Crops
In the past year, planting cover crops has emerged as one practical method of many solutions to improve water quality and potentially decrease the size of the Gulf Hypoxic Zone. PFI has been recognized as an important resource and leader in cover crops information. After release of the Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI), which listed cover crops as one of the top 3 practices for improving water quality PFI has been contacted by Iowa NRCS state and county staff to provide information and presentations about cover crops. PFI has also provided information to farmers about funding available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provided by NRCS which offers a cost share at $45/A for non-over wintering and $60/A for over-wintering cover crops. In addition to federal policy, local groups like the Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and several NRCS county offices have held meetings and initiated cover crop on-farm research projects. PFI has worked with these groups to know more about the ways in which cover crops can be mainstreamed.


Linda Meschke
Executive Director
Rural Advantage
1243 Lake Ave
Fairmount, MN 56031
Office Phone: 5072385449