Here it is: A comprehensive research study showing that covers reduce nitrate leaching in a corn/SB rotation & that yields are not affected

A recently published study from Iowa State University clearly shows the benefits of cover cropping:

This study is important because it yielded multi-year data across six different Iowa State University research farms in Iowa. To measure the nitrate level in the soil, they used pore water suction lysimeters. I wonder if water samples from drainage tile would show similar levels of nitrate reduction.

On my farm in Polk County, we will be seeding our 10th year of cover crops on August 23, 2021. For the first time we will be flying the seed on with drones. Consider attending, and please RSVP here so that we get an accurate head count for the meal:

Which direction for our state’s nutrient reduction strategy?

“Iowa needs a new approach on water quality” is the title of an opinion piece by 4 Iowa academics (Des Moines Register. February 9, 2020. Page 2OP. (Source:

What are the authors’ main claims?

  1. Our poor water quality in Iowa is the predictable result of our existing agricultural environment.
  2. We should base our agriculture on diversification and integrating livestock and crop production.
  3. Regulations will be required to implement appropriate practices to improve our water quality. Individual voluntary actions, as we have seen over the past decade, are not enough to make a substantial difference.

From my observations attending field days, visiting with neighbors, and holding my own meetings and field days, cover cropping is the most likely avenue forward for most farmers and landowners. Seeding cover crops is not difficult and with the available cost share programs, not expensive either. We need cover crops on every other field in Iowa, as Sarah Carlson, of Practical Farmers of Iowa has reminded us. So here we have our goal. Let’s get working on the implementation. What can you personally do you in your neighborhood? on your farm? on your family’s farm? to advance this worthy goal?

2020 cover crop seeding with Hagie/MonTag

On September 2 we seeded our 2020 cover crop with a brand-new Hagie/MonTag high clearance machine.

Hagie/MonTag high clearance machine on Tesdell Century Farm, Slater, IA. We seeded a 3-way mix of Cereal Rye, Oats, and Purple-Top Turnips on all 60 acres of soybeans on September 2, 2020.

At Day 13, our covers are doing well. The key factor is that we had 3.75 inches of rain a week after we seeded.

Day 13 after seeding and 3.75 inches of rain. 3-way mix of cereal rye, oats, and purple-top turnips.

We had a visitor on Monday

Zach Johnson, AKA MN Millennia Farmer, stopped in on August 17, one week after a Derecho wind storm on August 10 blew through our area at about 100 mph. Zach jumped on to Instagram as he drove from Minnesota to Iowa on August 17. As I browsed Instagram for photos of my grandchildren, I found Zach asking for contacts in central Iowa so that he could see the Derecho storm damage on his way to eastern Iowa. He asked for information via email, which I did. As it turned out, we arranged a meeting of the “Huxley Brain Trust”, AKA, Mike Helland, Nick Helland, Nick Griffieon, and Phillip Griffieon.

We are at minute 15 of his YouTube video:

Carbon (C) farming

One of the ideas that has currency these days is carbon farming. That is, landowners get paid for sequestering carbon on their farmland. Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson did one of their recent FieldWork podcasts on the subject. They interviewed someone from NORI and also mentioned Indigo, as two companies that are attempting to harness this market and pay landowners a certain amount for their efforts. A third opportunity is the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund.

On the face of it, this sounds like an interesting idea. Questions come to mind right away, though.

  1. How will suitability for carbon farming be measured? Annual soil tests? Earthworm counts? Cover crop biomass measurements? Organic matter levels?
  2. Will only the landowner be compensated or will the farmer-operator (if the owner does not farm the land), also be compensated?
  3. Will the payments be dependable and fair? Who decides how much the landowner gets paid? Will they be paid annually or will they have to wait to achieve certain thresholds to get paid, say every three years, for example?
  4. Most importantly, will we be compensated for the years of conservation work we have already done on our land? For example, you could take a county average of organic matter, and any one above that would receive compensation. Same thing with number of years of cover cropping.
  5. Just as important to the natural environment is water quality and water holding capacity (to mitigate flooding downstream). Can we be compensated based on N levels of tile water coming out of our tiles? For the amount of water retention we show with our cropping systems which results in less flooding downstream?

Cover crop status

We seeded 75 lbs of cereal rye and 6 lbs of rapeseed on August 22, 2019 with a high-clearance Hagie with a Montag seed tank and seed drops. On April 20, 2020 when the cereal rye was really starting to take off, we planted soybeans “green.” Then, on June 4, we terminated the rye. We had wanted to terminate earlier, but due to wet weather and wind, we had to wait.

Terminated cereal rye with soybeans emerging through cover crop on June 17, 2020.
Terrace seeded to native plants contrasting with soybeans in terminated cover crop rye on June 17, 2020.
Soil temperature at 74F on June 17, 2020.

It’s time to change, again

Some good advice from my friend Mark Licht. Mark has spoken at two field day events at Tesdell Century Farm.

Iowa Learning Farms

CLGHeaderMark Licht | Assistant Professor of Agronomy and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, Iowa State University

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been involved in several conversations regarding the need for change. Change is hard. It doesn’t matter what the profession. Change brings about anxiety and discontent. We do not like change forced upon us. But, we do accept change when it meets our current wants and needs. Sometimes change can be incremental, and sometimes it can be abrupt.

Since humans first began domesticating plants, agriculture has experienced incremental change. Most of the change focused on agricultural intensification – increasing agricultural production per unit of input. These inputs included labor, land, time, fertilizer, seed and pesticides to name just a few. Mechanization in labor from humans, to horses and oxen, to tractors has allowed greater productivity which led to expansion of land in agricultural production.

Throughout the last 150 years, incremental…

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Night life on the farm


Finally got a photo of a badger. I was sure that it was badgers tunneling into my terraces and fence lines. Here’s proof.

In June I put up a trailcam on my farm. Since then it’s been interesting to watch the results: a White-Tail doe and her twins, a 4-point buck, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, and pheasants. The most interesting photo is of an owl that appears to be landing on the trailcam itself.



Earthworms are not native to Iowa? What, like Chinese Ring-Necked Pheasants?

This is the reason I like teaching. I have been a teacher for 42 years and I learn new things all the time. Check this out: “Earthworms do not originate from Iowa, as the Pleistocene glacier wiped out any native worms from the Midwest more than 10,000 years ago. Worms here today came from Asia and Europe. Carried across the sea through the horticultural trade, these worms have made a home in our gardens and compost piles. However, some of these worms aren’t always helpful. The Asian jumping worms (Amynthas spp.) can create more damage than good in Iowa’s prairie. They consume the ground litter too quickly and can disrupt the natural nutrient cycle.”


Earthworms in my corn field where we seeded a cover crop of cereal rye and rapeseed on August 22 with a HagieMontag machine.


How did I learn about this? In my online technical communication class. A student who studied geography mentioned it. I have never heard this and was shocked when I did. This means that not only my pheasants (Chinese Ring-Necked Pheasants) but my earthworms are from elsewhere. In any case, I still want to believe that my earthworms are doing good things for me on my farm. What next, do I find out that my Hungarian Partridges are from Hungary?

Ten RNRoosters_11252018

10 Chinese Ring-Necked Pheasant roosters on my farm in fall 2018. I had never seen a rooster-only flock before. Maybe a bunch of teenagers?

Fall tillage along Hwy 17 and 169

As I travel back and forth to my job in Mankato, I like to watch the field work on both sides of the highway. Last Saturday, as I drove south, I inventoried the work along my route.

In Minnesota (Mankato to the state border at Elmore) I found the following:

  • Soybean fields that had been tilled: 22
  • Corn ground that had been tilled: 2
  • Harvesting in progress: 5
  • Cover crop growing: 1

In Iowa, from the border to home near Slater (it was getting dark, so I couldn’t record as much information), I saw this:

  • Soybean fields that had been tilled: 13
  • Corn ground that had been tilled: 10
  • Harvesting in progress: 8
  • Cover crop growing: 1

As an advocate of no fall tillage, I often mumble to myself as I pass a tilled field in the fall, something like “You know that you are going to lose topsoil over the next 5/6 months. You’ll never get it back. You are taking money out of your grandkids’ pockets. There is no good agronomic reason to till that soil in the fall.”



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