Cover Crops and Seed Corn in Iowa: A Great Fit

Contributed by Shannon Moeller

The Iowa Seed Corn Cover Crops Initiative had a very successful first year in 2016. This initiative is led by the Iowa Seed Association, in partnership with the Iowa Water Quality Initiative (WQI), Agribusiness Association of Iowa, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Soil and Water Conservation Society and participating seed corn companies.

This WQI sponsored project seeks to increase the number of cover crops in seed corn production acres around the state of Iowa, through a combination of education, outreach and cost-share opportunities. In the project’s first year, nine seed corn companies volunteered to be a partner in this initiative and promote the use of cover crops among their growers. These efforts resulted in well over 30,000 acres of cover crops, seeded by over 150 seed corn growers across 24 counties in Iowa.

Seed corn production acres present a great opportunity for cover crops for several key reasons. One of the primary opportunities comes with the advantages of cover crop seeding, as seed corn has a shorter growing season than commercial corn. Depending on the weather, harvest can start before Labor Day and is often finished before the end of September. Aerial application and interseeding methods can be quite successful in seed corn acres due to shorter plant height and decreased canopy density from detasseling. The shorter growing season also generally provides additional time to those who prefer to drill or broadcast cover crop seed after harvest.

Soil health benefits are another advantage offered with cover crops in seed corn production systems. During the summer growing season, there are generally multiple passes across any given field to accommodate pollination program and production activities. The increase of in field activities associated with seed corn production can lead to increased soil compaction and reduced residue compared to a commercial corn system.  Cover crops can help provide benefits to maintain soil health as a result of the increased field activities.

In 2017, the Iowa Seed Corn Cover Crops Initiative received additional funding from the WQI to support even more seed corn growers using cover crops this year. As of September 2017, funding has been obligated for over 50,000 acres of cover crops in seed corn fields this fall. Through increased support of project partners, farmer growers and seed corn companies promotional efforts, it is anticipated that this sucessful inititiave will continue to grow in future years.


Will Myers