Doug Adams' Five-Foot Tall Cover Crops

If you've been following the buzz about cover crops in the past few years, you've probably seen some great photos showing off deep roots, maybe some large radishes, but not likely any cover crops that have grown quite like what Doug Adams' had this spring.  

This April we went out to visit one of Doug Adams’ fields in Humboldt County. His cereal rye cover crops had germinated last fall and were beginning to grow, both above and below ground. The rye provided protection from soil erosion and scavenged excess nitrogen after corn harvest. 

In May, his rye took off! With heat and rain his rye went from eight inches tall to five feet tall in only four weeks!

“Since this farm has very little drainage tile, I left the rye to grow in May to draw up the excess water. I was also concerned about terminating it too early and having the rye lay down on the soil keeping it wet and me out of the field…This method worked very well, I never picked up any mud on the planter” said Adams.  

“I was nervous as well, but watching it close and knowing what other farmers have done with rye this tall gave me the confidence to follow through.” 

June 1st Adams terminated his field, June 2nd he planted soybeans, and on June 4th he rolled. A smooth roller pulled behind his tractor did the trick, same as those commonly used to roll conventionally planted soybean fields with the intent to smooth out the seed bed, easier for harvest and managing corn stalk residue. This photo was taken on June 15th and shows soybeans growing up through the terminated cereal rye.

Adams noticed a decrease in early season giant ragweed. Other than at the edges of his field where the cover crop was thinner, he saw nearly no ragweed. The fast-growing cereal rye outcompeted the broadleaf to prevent any in-field weed pressure.

Although Adams would not have wanted his rye to have grown to 5 feet tall, in the end his cover crops still served their purpose well in reducing weed pressure, reducing soil erosion, and increasing soil health.

Statewide funds available
Cost share funds are available to help farmers install nutrient reduction practices beginning on July 1, 2015 on up to 160 acres. Practices eligible for this funding are cover crops, no-till or strip till, or using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fertilizer. 

The cost share rate for first-time users of cover crops is $25 per acre, no-till or strip till are eligible for $10 per acre and farmers using a nitrapyrin nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer can receive $3 per acre. Any farmer not already utilizing these practices will receive priority consideration for this assistance. Farmers that have used cover crops in the past may be eligible for $15 per acre for cover crops. 

In the last 2 years this program has been available, over 1,400 farmers put in new nutrient reduction practices on over 144,000 acres. The state provided about $3.4 million in cost share funding to help farmers try a water quality practice for the first time and Iowa farmers provided at least another $3.4 million to support these water quality practices. 

More About Doug Adams
Doug Adams is an experienced cover crop user. In addition to farming in Humboldt County, he works for USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a Soil Conservation Technician at the Humboldt County USDA Service Center.

Read Adams’ experiences with aerially applied cover crops.