For farmers, spending money on conservation practices doesn’t make much economic sense unless you can see a benefit, whether it’s long-term improvement to your soil, or a near-term increase in yields.
At the Iowa Soybean Association’s annual research conference in Ames, growers and researchers are gathering today to share the results of different dual-purpose practices, for example cover crops.
Data from the Iowa Soybean Association’s On-Farm Network suggests cover crops like radishes and oats, which die due to frost in the winter, can improve production numbers.
When seeded into soybeans following corn, those mixes confer an average yield increase of two to 2.5 bushels per acre. Rye mixes, which must be killed with herbicide in the spring, don’t confer such benefits.
Seeding a field with cover crops can cost $25 for seed alone, and another $10-20 to apply it.
According to Purdue, 10 million acres of cropland in the U.S. were planted to cover crops in 2013; Practical Farmers of Iowa estimates three percent, or about 300,000 acres of that amount, was on farm ground in Iowa.
There’s room for improvement, but Osage farmer Wayne Fredericks says growers want to improve, "Farmers are attending these meetings in droves. They're wanting to learn what they can about the practices, and I think they're ready to step up and make some adaptation to their farming operations. So, if we can get them to try a practice this year maybe expand that practice next year, become more comfortable with the practice. Cause, until you try it on your own farm in your own situation and become comfortable with it, it's hard to adapt it en mass."