Stefan Gailans

Research and Field Crops Director

Stefan Gailans joined Practical Farmers of Iowa in August 2013. An agronomist by training, Stefan’s primary responsibility is to manage the Cooperators’ Program, Practical Farmers of Iowa’s vehicle for conducting on-farm research on the issues and concerns deemed most important by our members. He also coordinates field days, conference sessions and work shops for PFI’s field crops program.

Stefan received his Ph.D. in Crop Production and Physiology & Sustainable Agriculture from Iowa State University in 2017. His primary research interests were cover crops, third crops and diversified crop rotations. He now looks forward on a daily basis to working with farmers across the state to address these very same research concerns.

Stefan grew up in southeast Wisconsin, but he has enjoyed calling Ames (and Iowa!) his home for over 10 years. When he’s not thinking about crops, you can find Stefan hunting, fishing, gardening, reading science fiction or listening to Iowa Public Radio. Stefan also currently serves as board president at Wheatsfield Cooperative Grocery, a community-owned full-service grocery store specializing in fresh, local and organic food and services in Ames.


Blog posts

Successfully raising corn after a cover crop requires timely cover crop termination and N fertilization. Commonly, farmers terminate a cover crop 2-3 weeks prior to planting corn but generally do not need to apply any more N than if they did not use a cover crop. Last year, PFI farmer-cooperator Dick Sloan attempted “planting green”: planting his corn into a cereal rye cover crop that was terminated just two days prior. In Sloan’s case, he saw a 5 bu/ac yield reduction compared to where he terminated the cover crop two weeks prior to planting corn yet stands were equal between the two treatments (Cover Crop Termination Date Ahead of Corn). This past growing season, farmer-cooperators Dick Sloan and Tim Sieren compared terminating their cover crops approx. 3 weeks prior to planting corn with terminating their cover crops within 3 days of planting corn. They also investigated N fertilizer timing and rates across the cover crop termination dates.

You can read the full report of this project here: N Fertilizer Strategies for Corn Following Cover Crop.

N fert strategies 2017 cover shot

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Cover crops are gaining new attention for their ability to reduce weed pressure in soybeans. Specifically, when seeding soybeans directly into a thick cover crop. In the past two years, farmer-researchers Jeremy Gustafson and Jack Boyer have documented reduced herbicide use when planting soybeans into a tall, thick cereal rye cover crop that they chemically terminated near the time of soybean planting (Cereal Rye Cover Crop Termination Date Ahead of Soybeans). In this new project, farmer-cooperators Jack Boyer and Scott Shriver investigated the effect of row-width on soybean yields when rolling a cereal rye cover crop. Boyer rolled select strips after terminating with an herbicide; Shriver used a roller-crimper to terminate his cover crop.

You can read the full report of this project here: Rolling Cover Crops and Soybean Row-Width.

Rolling covers and soy row-width cover

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Cover crops in Iowa are typically seeded in late summer or fall. The most common cover crops are winter small grains like cereal rye or winter wheat. But farmers are increasingly interested in diversifying the cover crop portfolio in Iowa. In this trial, cooperators wondered: Can frost-seeding small-seeded brassica species into crop residue be an effective spring cover crop strategy? Because mustard and rapeseed have relatively small seeds, some have wondered if frost-seeding these into crop residue in the early spring could be an effective 40- or 50-day cover crop strategy. Read the new report here: Spring-Seeded Brassica Cover Crops.

Kodiak brown mustard at Jeremy Gustafson's on Apr. 24, 2017. Seeded on to soybean stubble on March 2.

Kodiak brown mustard at Jeremy Gustafson’s on Apr. 24, 2017. Seeded in to soybean stubble on March 2.

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Continuing work from the previous two years, Practical Farmers of Iowa and partners conducted another round of oat variety trials in 2017. Fifteen varieties were screened at two Iowa State University research farms (Kanawha, Nashua) and one PFI farmer-member farm (Wayne Koehler, Charles City)  Find the new report here: Oat Variety and Fungicide Trials 2017.

Alert Smith 2015 (194)

Key Findings:

  • The variety Antigo had the highest test weight at each location (>38 lb/bu) but was also among the lowest yielding varieties. Reings scored a test weight of 38 lb/bu at Kanawha
  • Application of fungicide did not improve oat yield or test weight for the four varieties tested at Nashua

Learn more about this project below.

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For those who missed the field day on soil regeneration hosted by Chris & Janenne Teachout near Shenandoah on Aug. 29, or for those who want to re-acquaint themselves with some of it, check out the “highlight reel” we’ve compiled below. The video features Chris, as well as Dr. Jill Clapperton, discussing cover crop practices and benefits to soil health.

Find more images from this excellent field day below.

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In Iowa corn-soybean production systems, cover crops are typically aerially seeded into standing crops around the time of physiological maturity or drilled immediately following corn or soybean harvest. Previous on-farm research conducted by Jack Boyer has shown that seeding cover crops earlier in the fall can translate to greater fall and spring biomass. This may present the opportunity for more diverse cover crop species selection. With this in mind, farmer-cooperator Jon Bakehouse wanted to investigate how he could seed cover crops earlier than normal in a corn-soybean system and more successfully include a diverse array of cover crop species. To accomplish this, Jon planted early maturing varieties of corn (104- or 105-day) and soybean (1.0 group) in an attempt to harvest earlier in the fall and seed cover crops earlier in the fall.

You can read the full research report here: Accommodating Cover Crops with Early Maturing Corn and Soybeans.

Early maturing soybeans in the center strip with later maturing beans in the outer strips at Jon Bakehouse's in Sept. 2015.

Early maturing soybeans in the center strip with later maturing beans in the outer strips at Jon Bakehouse’s in Sept. 2015.

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This year marks the 30th anniversary of Practical Farmers’ Cooperators’ Program. Since 1987, members have been conducting on-farm research to answer questions they have about their farming operations. It’s one of the ways we accomplish our mission: Strengthening farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information sharing.

The Research Protocols forms outlining research projects for the 2017 season are now posted on our website. They are identified by program area (Livestock, Horticulture, Field Crops) and you can view them here:


These projects were designed by farmer-members and are currently being conducted on our members’ farms by the members themselves. The protocol forms are designed to give a snapshot of the methods and experimental designs our farmers are using to conduct research to answer their most challenging questions on their farms. Eventually, these projects are completed and documented in freely available research reports.

On-farm research through our Cooperators’ Program has long been a fundamental piece of the Practical Farmers of Iowa fabric: It is one of the primary ways members share their knowledge and experiences with one another. This year, topics range from rolling cover crops ahead of soybeans to feeding pelleted small grains to hogs to lettuce variety trials for summer production. The range of topics is a testament to our “big tent” and represents the ever-present curiosity that makes a Practical Farmer.

The fifth and final iteration of Practical Farmers’ Cover Crop Variety Trial has just been released: Cover Crop Variety Trial, 2016-2017.

As with the previous iterations, cooperators hand-seeded cover crops into small plots and assessed groundcover in the fall (prior to hard freeze) and the following spring (prior to termination). Cover crop entries studied in 2016-17 are shown in the table below. Read on to learn more about the recent iteration of the trial which was conducted by seven cooperators across the state.

CC entries 2016-17

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According to the 2014 Organic Survey, Iowa ranked No. 10 in organic sales, but the state has since fallen out of the top 10. Given that organic sales rose nationally by 13% from 2014 to 2015, though, interest in organic farming and produce remains strong among consumers. Interest also remains strong among farmers in Iowa. As such, Scott, Jack and Linda Ausborn hosted a field day near Ida Grove to address the organic transition process, crop rotation considerations and weed control tactics. “Farming organically is fun and challenging,” Scott told those attending. “It has also connected us to a very experienced network of farmers to learn from and go to for help.” The field day was held in partnership between Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Iowa Organic Association.

Read on to learn more about this field day below. You can also learn more about Scott and his family’s farm in this episode of our podcast, On-Farm: Conversations with Practical Farmers.

Scott Ausborn (far left) discusses their oat crop with a red clover underseeding.

Scott Ausborn (far left) discusses their oat crop with a red clover underseeding.

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According to Iowa State University, 53% of the farmland in Iowa is rented. That is to say, the majority of the farm acres in the state are farmed by people who do not own that land. That does not, however, mean that those who own farmland but don’t farm it themselves cannot do their part when it comes to conservation. Case in point are Maggie McQuown and Steve Turman who own Resilient Farms near Red Oak and hosted a field day on June 15. The two shared how they have implemented numerous soil and water conservation strategies on their land by working closely with their farm operators, Bryan and Lisa Huff. As we learned at the field day, these strategies include cover crops, riparian buffers and prairie strips.

Maggie McQuown led attendees on a tour of their prairie strips where she pointed out several plant species native to Iowa.

Maggie McQuown led attendees on a tour of their prairie strips where she pointed out several plant species native to Iowa.

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