PFI ?Boot Camp? explores use of cover crops to reduce nitrogen inputs

by | Nov 30, 2021 | 5 Ag Stories, News

Hundreds of farmers gathered in Ankeny on Tuesday to learn more about the benefits of cover crops. The Practical Farmers of Iowa hosted its annual Cover Crop Boot Camp inside the FFA Enrichment Center on the DMACC campus.

Practical Farmers of Iowa strategic initiatives director Sarah Carlson says the event explored all things cover crops including ways to cut inputs, add seed and livestock enterprises. She explains the first session of the day focused on how farmers can cut nitrogen with the use of cover crops.

?We all know that nitrogen prices have really spiked, and also other inputs have spiked,? Carlson said. ?Sometimes farmers don?t realize how they can control those input costs by growing plants in the wintertime. Our biggest takeaway for the entire day is that cover crops are a way to build resilience on our farms and help us control our input costs. Specifically, this morning, we really hit hard on how to control our nitrogen costs with long-term use or legume use of cover crops.?

Southeastern Minnesota farmer Tom Pyfferoen helped lead the discussion during the first session of the Cover Crop Boot Camp. He talked about how the seeding of oats is reducing the need for nitrogen for next year?s crop.

?Years ago, we were probably up to 160 to 180 pounds of nitrogen,? Pyfferoen said. ?Now we are getting down into that 100-to-120-pound area. We are trying to rely more on the legume crop to supply more of it. We are still getting tremendous yields, soil health and grain quality. It seems to be working. I think it?s a system that the more you read, we?re starting to better understand how soils react and how soils respond.?

Pyfferoen explains cover crops are also useful for feeding livestock.

?If you are in the livestock business and it is fenced, you?ve got yourself a tremendous supply of feed there for the livestock,? Pyfferoen said. ?The average old brute cow will eat 100 pounds of forage a day. She can mow through that stuff, and you have very little work to it. She harvests it, spreads her own manure and you have the best of both worlds there.?

Farmers of all experience levels attended four learning sessions, which were all led by farmers with diverse cover crop experiences. The Cover Crop Boot Camp was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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