Farmer Finds Other Benefits with Cover Crops

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There's an initiative in Iowa to plant more cover crops to help with erosion and water quality. In Adair County, there's a farmer who's trying to get another benefit out of it.

A couple weeks before planting starts up in Iowa, the farm of Doug Holliday is already bursting with green.

He's trying something new: using cereal rye to graze cattle, "So much of this country used to be in pasture. It's since been put into crop. So now we're back to using cover crops to hold the soil in place. But we're looking at the other side as economics. Turning the cattle out. Letting them walk it off and graze it themselves without us having to harvest it and feed it to them and stretch our pasture we do have a little further."

The cover crop was planted last fall and it can be a financial risk when it's starting out.

Holliday says, "Some years in the past it's been dry and it hasn't took off. We've spent thousands of dollars and it's never grown in the past. Pretty costly experiment, so we're back trying it again."

Getting the fields ready for planting is also risky, cereal rye can be an expensive weed if not taken care of. Holliday says you have to kill it with a herbicide when it's short or long. When the rye is in mid-growth it's hard to kill.

He says, "You'd like to spray it before it's six inches if you're going to plant right into it. We're grazing it of course, we might have to let it grow up till it's ready to put a head on and then kill it."

Holliday's cow-calf operation is grazing 130 pairs. He hopes the 160 acres of cereal rye will last about two months.

Then depending on how dry it is, he'll plant a soybean crop or hybrid sudangrass in June.
Holliday rents this area and says there's an aesthetic benefit. The landowners love the green fields, but it's also important to his soil, his hilly ground is prone to erosion.

He says, "We're putting roots in the ground, we're holding the soil in place. That's what we're trying. We hope that it captures the nutrients. It's going to take time to develop the science and what it's going to do for us. I know the Iowa legislature is tossing around all kinds of ideas right now and they don't know which way to go."

Holliday says he's planning on setting it up to do again next year.


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