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

2012 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


This project will increase adoption of cover crops and support the transition toward more continuous living cover in the Iowa and Minnesota landscape. 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 with a newly developed decision-making tool farmers now can more precisely choose a cover crop for their farm. But even with this knowledge lack of adoption is still prevalent. This project not only disseminates 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 incorporates farmers’ wealth of on-farm knowledge into a decision-making tool, which provides 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 two field days (1 in IA and 1 in MN) to gauge farmer awareness and knowledge level and to disseminate agronomic information on cover crops.
• Conduct 12 on-farm demonstration and research trials on cover crops (6 in IA and 6 in MN).
• Present key agronomic information about cover crops at the PFI Annual Conference and Cooperators’ Meeting and RA’s 3rd Crop Winter Series.
• Develop and disseminate three cover crop stories.


• Four farmers and two researchers presented about cover crops at the PFI Annual Conference in January, 2012. (109 attendees total)

• Two farmers presented their on-farm research projects on cover crops in horticulture and field crops production at the PFI Cooperators’ Meeting in February, 2012. After which farmers discussed their opinions in a follow-up listening session. (40 attendees)

• Two farmers presented how they incorporate cover crops in their production systems and farmers’ opinions were shared in a follow-up listening session at the PFI Next Generation Retreat in December, 2012 (50 attendees)

• Held the annual 3rd Crop Producer Meeting in Minnesota on February 6, 2012 – Cover Crops Research and Experiences (45 attendees)

• Hosted six listening sessions in Minnesota (Rural Advantage).

1. February 7, 2012 Conservation Tillage Conference (Table Talk on Cover Crops) – Fairmont, Minnesota (Approximately 50 attendees)
2. March 5, 2012 South Central Minnesota Corn and Soybean Day (Presentation on MN CCDT) – Fairmont, Minnesota (43 attendees)
3. March 15, 2012 Waseca County Farmer Forum (Presentation on cover crops, SARE project, and MN DDCT) – Kilkenny, Minnesota (63 attendees)
4. July 12, 2012 NRCS state Technical Meeting (Presented on MN CCDT) – St. Cloud, Minnesota
(Approximately 20 attendees)
5. August 7 to September 12, 2012 Farmfest Booth – Morgan, Minnesota
6. September 19, 2012 Goodhue County Nutrient Management Field Day (Presented on cover crops, SARE project, MN CCDT – Goodhue, Minnesota

• Hosted 14 field days in Iowa (PFI). Farmers presented about cover crops during four PFI regularly scheduled field days as well as 10 spring and fall cover crop field day series with the Iowa Learning Farms. A total of 563 people attended these events.

1. March 27, 2012 ILF Cover Crop Days with Joe Kriegel and Mark Pokorny – Malcom, Iowa
2. March 28, 2012 ILF Cover Crop Days with Jeremy Gustafson – Boone, Iowa
3. March 29, 2012 ILF Cover Crop Days with Dan Wilson – Sutherland, Iowa
4. April 3, 2012 ILF Cover Crop Days with Rick Juchems – Nashua, Iowa
5. April 4, 2012 ILF Cover Crop Days with Steve Nebel – Crawfordsville, Iowa
6. April 5, 2012 ILF Cover Crop Days with Mark Peterson – Lewis, Iowa
7. June 20, 2012 No-till and Cover Crops on Loess Soils with Barry Kusel – Manning, Iowa
8. August 7, 2012 Cover Crops and Flame-Weding in Corn and Soybeans with Mark and Melanie Peterson – Stanton, Iowa
9. August 21, 2012 Cover Crop Tour: Combatting Compaction with Kelly and Irene Tobin, Nick and Seth Evans, Steve and Mike Stockwell, Paul and Nancy Ackley – Taylor County, Iowa
10. August 24, 2012 Cedar River Coalition with Sloan Farm- Brandon, Iowa
11. October 26, 2012 Fall Cover Crops Field Day with Pete Crew – Webb, Iowa
12. October 30, 2012 Fall Cover Crops Field Day with Bill, Steve, David and Robert McGrew—Emerson, Iowa
13. October 31, 2012 Fall Cover Crops Field Day with Mike Henning – Winterset, Iowa
14. November 8, 2012 Fall Cover Crops Field Day with Art Behrens – Carroll, Iowa

• Hosted one field day in Minnesota (Rural Advantage). Total of 10 people attended these events.

1. April 13, 2012 Red Wing Cover Crop Field Day –Red Wing, Minnesota

• 30 cooperators (4 in Minnesota, 26 in Iowa) have started and have been continuing research and demonstration on cover crops

1. Seven cooperators are testing cover crops’ effect on crop yield.
2. Six cooperators are evaluating establishment of fall cover crops.
3. One cooperator tested establishing red clover into standing corn and soybeans
4. Two cooperators are examining crimson clover cover crop affect on corn yield.
5. Ten cooperators are conducting cover crops variety trial to test 20 different cover crop varieties.

1. One cooperator examined grazing of purple top turnip and dwarf essex rape cover crop mixture.
2. One cooperator tested legume cover crop after barley harvest.
3. One cooperator broadcasted rape and turnip into standing corn and tested fall grazing of beef cattle.
4. One cooperator tested use of cover crops as forage for dairy cattle.

Data has been analyzed and PFI published the following reports:
Twenty Species Cover Crop Variety Trial Over-seeded into Cash Crops
Winter Rye Cover Crop Effect on Cash Crop Yield: Yr 4
Quick Turnaround Cover Crops for Horticulture

PFI published the following cover crop items:

Four print publications
1. “PFI Farmers Add Cover Crops without Sacrificing Yield.” The Practical Farmer (Spring 2012)
2. “Weed Management Strategies” The Practical Farmer (Summer 2012)
3. Cover Crop Business Directory was revised in July 2012 and more than 400 copies have been given out.
4. “Grow Your Own N with Cover Crop.” Wallaces Farmer (December 2012)

Nine radio spotlights
1. “First Test of Three-Year Crop Rotation.” Public News Service. April 6, 2012.
2. “Cover Crops: Drought & Flood Protection for Iowa Farms.” Public News Service. August 28, 2012.
3. “Stanton Farmer Passionate about Cover Crops.” KMA Land. November 8, 2012.
4. “Is Drought Proofing the Farm Possible?” Public News Service. November 28, 2012.
5. Five other spotlights on the following radio stations: KWMT Fort Dodge, WHO Des Moines, KSOM Atlantic, KCSI Red Oak and KICD Spencer.

Two internet stories
1. “Cover Crops are Really Growing!” March 28, 2012.
2. “Next: Killing Cover Crops.” Wallaces Farmer. March 2012.

Rural Advantage published the following cover crop media stories:

One print publication
1. Newspaper article – “Take a Look at Cover Crops.” Conservation Update, Fairmont Photopress January 25, 2012.

Four press releases/Email listserves
1. Cover Crops to Open 2012 Third Crop Producer Meetings press release, January 23, 2012.
2. April 13 Cover Crop Field Day, Goodhue County press release, April 3, 2012.
3. Cover Crop Cost-Share Dollars Available press release, June 18, 2012.
4. Cover Crop Acres Needed press release, July 14, 2012.

One radio spotlight
1. AgNews 890 Fargo, ND – Cover Crops and NCR-SARE Cover Crop Project, June 21, 2012.

One internet story
1. UMN Extension AgNews Wire – “U Research Guides Growers on Cover Crop Selection, Planting Date.” May 14, 2012.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Increased Momentum for Cover Crops
Again, planting cover crops has been documented to be an immediate, practical method to improve water quality and decrease Iowa and Minnesota’s effect on the size of the Gulf Hypoxic Zone. Practical Farmers of Iowa and Rural Advantage have been recognized as important resources and leaders for cover crops information. PFI has also provided information to farmers about funding available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provided by NRCS as well as state cost-share. In 2011, PFI worked with county commissioners to pass a resolution to provide cost share to farmers from the State Cost Share fund. In 2012, 117 farmers took advantage of these cost share funds. Seed houses that sell cover crop seed have said there was a shortage of winter small grains available because of the increased demand for cover crops in Iowa in 2012. In the fall of 2012 there was a waiting list at several seed houses for farmers to buy cover crop seed. We need to continue pulling the pieces together to meet this demand and encouraging greater use of the practice.


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