I am happy to report that we’ve enjoyed stellar corn-growing weather. Many parts of the state have had too much rain, in prior years we’ve not had enough, but this summer things seem to be progressing just right! As you can see, it’s almost waist-high this week.
We do have one section of corn that is not like the others . . . as you can see in the picture, the corn is very short compared to the plants above.
You may guess that something went wrong here, but this was the result of an entirely purposeful experiment that my lovely farmer is trying. In that same area, he had rye planted. Rye is one of the many “cover crops” that are used by farmers to help protect their soils. A cover crop is basically any plant that is grown on a production field outside of the main cash crop (in many cases corn or soybeans). All spring, while the corn was sitting in bags waiting to be planted, the rye grew in the field until it was over knee-high.
After all the other corn was planted, this rye was chopped and will be part of the cattle’s feed ration until it’s gone. Then corn was finally planted a few weeks after the other fields. This scenario has a few benefits: (1) all spring this area was growing something, which helped keep the soil in place (we love protecting the soil!) (2) this is a feed source for the cattle which made efficient use of the land during the spring, and (3) the rye helps hold any fertilizers in place so it’s not running off to other places (i.e. in watersheds).
Farmer J has been into cover crops for a bit now, and we’ve tried many different methods and varieties (rye, peas, oats, radishes, etc). It is really all an experiment since the farm didn’t have many prior experiences with cover crops. We’ve found there is no one size fits all method when using these alternative crops, but I think it is a great example of the various methods farmers are using to protect soils, waterways, and improve our operations. We’ve had failures and successes, but Farmer J continues to think outside of the box (one of the many reasons I love him).
Have a happy week, and as the Practical Farmers of Iowa group says “Don’t Farm Naked” use cover crops!