To boost forage production, Iowa farmer gets creative with cover crops

Erik Helgerson's 11-acre forage operation has fed his cattle without tilling for eight years in a row.

Turnips in a box. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Soybeans, peas, and beans are some of the most popular choices for cover crops. One Iowa farmer, needing to feed his cattle while battling erosion and grazing deer, has gotten a bit more creative with his rotation.

As reported in the The Standard:

A local farmer is breaking up his rotation, reducing erosion, and providing additional forage benefits for his cattle by planting cover crops.

Erik Helgerson, who farms near Lansing, tried a unique sequence of cover crops this year on 11 acres near his home. Helgerson has been no tilling for 8 years now. Last year he started to experiment with different cover crop species such as Japanese millet and turnips. He had experienced positive results so this year he decided to take it a step further.

First, Helgerson seeded a mix of triticale and peas into corn stubble with his 10-foot hay buster no till drill. The mix contained 60% triticale and 40% peas, planted at a rate of 2.5-3 bushels per acre. Prior to seeding he applied 30 units of nitrogen. That crop was harvested July 3 and yielded 3.5 tons an acre of forage. Next, on the same acres he drilled a mix of sorghum sudangrass and piper sudangrass July 5.

Helgerson plans to harvest this crop late September. Finally, he is considering seeding a rye and hairy vetch mix this fall depending on how much cover is remaining after harvest of the sorghum sudangrass and piper sudangrass.

Helgerson has been battling to produce enough forage for his cattle due to excessive deer browse in his area. He says, “the more forage I can get out of my acreage the better. One thing I would do differently next year is not remove the corn stalks to leave more ground cover. My goal is to keep this steep ground covered as much as possible.”

Helgerson’s no-till strategy allows him to leave roots in the ground. As roots decompose, they enrich the soil with nutrients, leaving the soil healthier and more productive.

James A

James is EIC's Project Development manager and company webmaster. He has a BA from Washington State University and is pursuing an MBA from Eastern Washington University. In 2020 he launched a Bitcoin-based merchandising company for small business and content creators.

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