Waukee farmer reflects on first-time use of cover crops

Waukee farmer reflects on first-time use of cover crops

To hear Dan Golightly share his experience trying cover crops for the first time, click here.

WAUKEE, Iowa – Spring planting is just around the corner.

On Thursday, soil temperatures in the easternmost Iowa counties reached into the mid-50 degree area, while areas in Northern Iowa remained in the 40s. Producers are looking for a consistent 50 degrees at a 4-inch depth before they get started this year.

In Waukee in central Iowa, cattleman and row crop farmer Dan Golightly, above, hopes he’ll have a chance to get in the field within the next week or two.

Last year, Golightly participated in the Iowa Department of Agriculture’s cost share program, one aspect of which matched the money producers contributed to try cover crops for the first time. In the fall, he aerially seeded a cover crop mix onto one of his fields.

Golightly is no stranger to conservation practices, but last fall was the first opportunity for him to use tillage radishes and oats to keep nutrients on his land.

“It was the first time I had ever done it,” Golightly explains. “I did learn a lot; I did use species that would winterkill, so I won’t be out having to kill those cover crops with a herbicide. My intention is, on the field where I tried it, [to] go in and no-till corn into that field, and I think it should work very well.”

The math seems to support Golightly; he plans to put corn onto the same field where he tried cover crops, and gave a ballpark estimate of his corn yields between 150 and 200 bushels per acre. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy points out that using cover crops comes with a price in terms of corn yield; oats, for example, will cost producers around 5% on their corn yields. One company selling tillage radishes claims 12 additional bushels of corn per acre. Even if Golightly’s field produces 200 bushels of corn this year, a 5% reduction is just 10 bushels, meaning the combination of tillage radishes and oats could produce 2 bushels more than Golightly’s other fields.

Golightly says there is one thing he would have done differently.

“My experience was: I need to plant the cover crop at an earlier date to get more growth out of that,” says Golightly. “However, I do have to say that with the small amount of above-ground growth that I did see on mine, that below the ground, some of the roots on that went down a substantial distance. That’s going to be organic matter when that decays. I think it worked out pretty well for my first time.”

Cover crops are just one part of IDALS’ water quality initative, which is aimed in part at keeping ag runoff out of Iowa’s waterways.