Farmer Boot Camp Encourages Farmers to Teach Others about Cover Crops

For Release: August 11, 2014

AMES, Iowa — Last year there were nearly 400,000 acres of cover crops in Iowa, a dramatic increase over previous years. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy calls for a lot more cover crops, millions of acres more, driving increased farmer interest in planting cover crops. To help address the need for more cover crop expertise, Practical Farmers of Iowa held a Cover Crop Boot Camp last week to help train 25 farmers how to effectively teach other farmers, through phone consultations and presentations, how to successfully integrate cover crops into their farm operations.

Practical Farmers gets dozens of calls for information about and requests for presentations on cover crops each week. Farmers in the network have communicated a preference to learn from each other, so Practical Farmers held the event to create a corps of cover crop farmer experts to help educate others on the benefits and implementation of cover crops.

Experienced cover crop farmers and researchers gathered in Ames for a two-day Cover Crop Boot Camp. Farmers from a range of production systems including row crops, livestock, fruits and vegetables were chosen for their expertise in using cover crops and their desire to communicate what they have learned with others. During the event farmers were brought up to date on the latest university and on-farm research about cover crops, learned how to effectively give a presentation and crafted messages for future cover crops outreach.

Attendees learned the science side of how cover crops help build soil organic matter, which allows soils to better hold water and nutrients. “We talk a lot about the benefits generally, but moving forward we need to understand how it works, so that we can do better at managing for specific goals,” said Sarah Carlson, Midwest Cover Crop Research Coordinator. Building on the science, farmers discussed strategies for successful planting and termination of cover crops, avoiding herbicide injury effects, and adapting management to fit into their different farming systems.

“There is a learning curve with cover crops, it’s an added layer of management. A few farmers have been doing this for 20 years, but we need strategies for beginners. We want them to be successful and to continue with cover crops year after year,” said Don Elsbernd of Cresco.

Farmer Jeremy Gustafson of Boone told the group how he has helped farmers in his area organize with local pilots to get cover crops seeded by plane. “Management isn’t just in the field, it takes work to get the seed and get it planted.”  Gustafson’s “one stop cover crop shop”, a project of the Soil and Water Conservation District in Boone County, helped farmers seed over one thousand acres last year.

“There comes a time when you realize cover crops can be the primary focus. The cash crop is there to cash in on the benefits of soil health and nutrients that you’ve built from the cover crop. You are growing your own nitrogen and holding more water for your crop.” says Andrew Dunham who uses dozens of cover crops in his diverse horticulture operation, Grinnell Heritage Farm in Grinnell.

The farmers that completed the boot camp are now available to give presentations and answer questions about cover crops, this fall and beyond. Anyone interested in more information should contact the Practical Farmers of Iowa office at: (515) 232-5661.



Drake Larsen | Practical Farmers of Iowa | 515-232-5661 |

Stefan Gailans | Practical Farmers of Iowa | 515-232-5661 |


Cover Crop Boot Camp Attendees
Name City County
Torray Wilson Paullina O’Brien
Earl Hafner Panora Guthrie
Rick Juchems Plainfield Bremer
Darwin Pierce Coon Rapids Guthrie
Wade Dooley Albion Marshall
Tim Palmer Truro Madison
Rob Stout Washington Washington
Jeremy Gustafson Boone Boone
Dick Sloan Rowley Buchanan
Paul Ackley Bedford Taylor
Jerry Sindt Holstein Ida
Jack Boyer Reinbeck Grundy
Nathan Anderson Aurelia Cherokee
Don Elsbernd Cresco Winneshiek
Tim Recker Arlington Fayette
Barry Kusel Manning Carroll
Jacob Bolson Hubbard Hardin
Andy Dunham Grinnell Poweshiek
Mark Quee West Branch Cedar