Two Iowa farmers in different areas of the state with different soil types and topography are both seeing the benefits of using 4R Plus practices on their land.
Harrison County’s Curt Mether farms the steep-to-rolling Loess Hills in western Iowa, and Humboldt County’s Doug Adams farms the mostly flat prairie pothole region of north-central Iowa. While the topography of their land is vastly different, 4R Plus practices — combining nutrient stewardship and conservation — helped them manage this spring’s heavy rains.
Mether has miles of terraces to slow water from excessive rains. He’s used no-till for more than 20 years and added cover crops six years ago to rebuild organic matter lost to erosion. This year he started planting corn mid-April, wrapped up in May and then finished planting soybeans by the end of May.
Don’t underestimate benefits of no-till
“What I realized this spring is everything that has been done to the ground — tillage practices and cover crops — made a big difference,” Mether says. “I think farmers underestimate the cumulative impact of what they do over the course of time. No-till soils have better structure and improved infiltration and water-holding capacity. The soil supported the equipment and that made a world of difference this year.”
Building soil structure is also key to Adams, who has become accustomed to wet spring weather throwing curveballs. This year he planted corn from mid-April to May 16. Rains kept him out of the fields until early June, but he used a small window to plant soybeans.
“I like to plant corn using a strip-till system, but since it was getting later than I liked, I no-tilled all the corn this year,” he says. “The rye cover crop did its job this spring. It supported the equipment and drew moisture from the surface to keep us in the fields.”
Adams was pleased with the growth of his cover crops this spring, and his use of the late-spring soil nitrogen test signaled the cover crop did its job of recycling nutrients. “I’ve been using no-till and strip till along with cover crops long enough to see a payback,” he says.
4R Plus helps protect yield potential
Both farmers say 4R Plus practices helped them get into fields sooner and stay in longer to get crops planted. Mether is optimistic he’s growing an above-trend-line corn crop, while soybeans are more variable because of the wider planting window. Adams is optimistic he has near-trend yield potential for corn and soybeans.
“I encourage farmers who haven’t done any no-till to give it a try — even if it’s just a few acres,” Adams says. “It made a world of difference for me this year. I was in the fields a few days sooner than others without causing any damage to the soil.”
Mether agrees and wishes he had switched to no-till sooner. “Even compared to 10 years ago, we are much better off for having an effective system in place,” he says. “It bothers me how much tillage is still happening on the sloping Iowa landscape, especially since we know it has contributed to our erosion issue.”
For more information, visit 4rplus.org.