Sioux County Cattleman Improves Bottom Line

Sioux County Cattleman Improves Bottom Line

Contributed by Colton Meyer - Project Coordinator with the West Branch Floyd River Watershed Water Quality Initiative Project in Sioux County

Craig Moss lives on the family farm one mile west of Hull in Northwest Iowa. He farms with his father, Arlan, and together they manage a herd of beef cattle and a row crop operation consisting of corn, soybeans, and cereal rye. Until recently the rye wasn’t always in the rotation. Craig is very conscious of the residue management required to maintain the fertility of his fields, and he knew he would have an organic matter deficit after baling a portion of the residue for bedding. Craig and Arlan thought the addition of hog manure was helping some to build the biology and nutrient levels in the soil but wanted to see more improvement. As such, they decided to plant cereal rye into both bean and corn residue after harvest.

The Moss’s first step was to visit the local NRCS office in Orange City where they learned about seeding dates, rates, and the different cost share programs including Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the West Branch of the Floyd River Water Quality Initiative (WQI) Project. The local office staff helped the Moss’s to determine the best options for their farm in alignment with their operational goals.

The first year was an experiment as they had no experience. They planted the rye on Nov. 1st and let it reach the boot stage in the spring before chopping it on Memorial Day. They terminated the rye with a light tillage pass. The second year he had some experience behind him, so he decided to no-till plant his corn into the green rye which was later terminated. That rye ended up yielding 8 tons/acre, which provided significant value as a feed source. Late harvesting of the corn was not an issue as it was also to be chopped for high moisture feed. Craig was pleased with the yield, as it ended up being within 5 bushels of his non-cover crop corn. On the third year Craig saw a very similar yield. The feed value of the rye was better than he expected, and was estimated at roughly 80% corns feed value.

There were a couple concerns Craig had with the addition of cereal rye. He knew tilling the rye would likely leave large root balls that he did not want to plant into, so no till was the method of choice. He also learned that his tractor pulling the no-till planter through the rye was using more fuel than it was pulling tillage equipment. This is because the topsoil gets hard from the wheel traffic during ryelage chopping. However, after Craig dug a few inches down, he learned that the soil in the root zone was mellow and had good structure. Another added benefit of the rye Craig experienced was dramatically improved infiltration. For example, Craig was able to run equipment in his field just 24 hours after a two-inch rain because his soil was able to better absorb that water .

Craig’s most recent use of cover crops was in 2018 when he fall seeded 75 acres of winter wheat following corn. Half of that field was chopped for silage and was seeded on September 15th. The other half was harvested normally and seeded on November 1st. In the spring he is hoping to bale the wheat, followed by termination. Then, he plans on no-tilling his beans into the wheat stubble, which will be followed by another seeding of a winter hardy cover crop. His final step for this year will be injecting liquid manure into the cover crop with a low disturbance toolbar. In the spring of 2020, Craig plans to no-till plant corn into the cover crop residue. On the Moss farm, cover crops are an integral part of their operation. What started off as a tool to improve soil health turned into a valuable, affordable, and nutritious feed source for Craig’s livestock.

Will Myers