Workshop covers benefits of, barriers to conservation practices

Monticello farmer Dave Lubben (left) visits with Mark Licht of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach during the Cover Crop/Relay Intercropping Workshop Feb. 22 in the Youth Development Center. (Photos by Pete Temple)

Nicole Monck of Monticello contributes to an answer board at the Feb. 22 workshop.
Pete Temple
Express Sports/Ag Editor

   Farmers and agricultural professionals discussed the merits of cover crops and relay intercropping, as well as the drawbacks and barriers to their implementation, during a workshop Feb. 22 at the Citizens State Bank Youth Development Center in Monticello.

   The discussion centered around cover crops, which are planted to reduce soil erosion on farms; and relay intercropping, the practice in which the lifecycle of one crop overlaps that of another crop.

   The workshop was conducted by Alena Whitaker, Mark Licht and Matt Helmers of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

   Whitaker, in kicking off the event, said one of their goals is to create “a culture of conservation.”

   The 14 farmers in attendance were divided into groups, then took turns rotating around the room and writing their answers to questions written on posters taped to the walls.

   Licht said that because relay intercropping, in particular, is a relatively new practice, “We’re trying to learn from you, and then hopefully we can impart some wisdom back.”

   The farmers took it seriously enough, compiling long lists of answers. On each one, they were asked to pick a top three or four out the 8-12 answers given.  

   “This is our third (workshop) this week,” Helmers said. “This is the most dialogue we’ve had of any of them.”

   A sampling:

   Q: What are the leading causes of water quality issues in Iowa?

   • Silt runoff.

   • Manure runoff.

   • Tile drainage.

   Q: What practices are more effective for addressing these?

   • Filter and buffer strips.

   • No-till.

   • More cover crops.

   Q: What are the benefits of cover crops?

   • Fewer weeds.

   • In heavy rains, cover (crops) will slow runoff.

   • Organic matter.

   Q: What are the barriers to cover crops in your area?

   • Time.

   • Manpower.

   • Cost.

   Regarding relay intercropping, the farmers offered these responses:

   Q: What are the benefits of relay intercropping?

   • Multiple incomes.

   • Weed management.

   • Reducing erosion.

   • Nutrient management.

   Q: What are the barriers to relay intercropping in your area?

   • Equipment

   • Cost of seed.

   • Family/co-workers (having enough help).

   The farmers were pretty much in agreement that some are reluctant to try either cover crops and relay intercropping for a variety of reasons.

   “Some won’t because they’re afraid to lose a couple of bushels,” said one.

   Another added: “Some would try it and fail, and not do it again.”

   Helmers, near the end of the workshop, said that implementing these practices is becoming more of a need.

   “We need to address these water quality issues,” Helmers said. “The runoff, and sediment that we lose with runoff are important. Because we’re losing productive soil from our fields, but also sediment in our streams is an issue.”




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