Expert cover crop farmer Blake Vince will share his strategies for improving soil with cover crops at Practical Farmers’ 2015 annual conference – Jan. 23-24 in Ames

For Release: December 12, 2014

AMES, Iowa — Cover crop discussions tend to center around benefits such as reduced pests and inputs, or improved soil and water quality. But for row crop farmer Blake Vince, those benefits can all be distilled down to one key point: cover crops save money.

Blake is a fifth-generation farmer who raises corn, soybeans, winter wheat and cover crops on 1,300 acres near Merlin, Ontario. He doesn’t dispute the range of benefits cover crops can offer; in fact, he’s an enthusiastic supporter of cover crops for all the services they provide. But he says he ultimately sees those benefits translating into “financial yield.”

“Cover crops save me money by reducing nitrogen inputs, by extracting years of nutrients spread on fields that are locked in the soil, by reducing the diesel fuel I need to spread fertilizer, by drought-proofing my soil so I have extra reserves of water when the ‘tap’ turns offs in July,” says Blake, who is also director of the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario.

“We need to change our thought process away from physical yield, and more to thinking about financial yield – and the two are not equal. Most people think about getting the highest physical yield per acre. But if it’s taking you the most money expended per bushel, I think I can be more profitable by growing potentially less crop without those annual costs.”

Learn from Blake how you can make cover crops profitable for your farm at Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2015 annual conference, “Mapping Our Future,” taking place Jan. 23-24 at the Iowa State Center Scheman Building, on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. Blake will lead three sessions, and be available other times to network and answer questions.

  • In one in-depth workshop (“Get the Dirt on Soil Ecology”), Blake will co-lead a session with soil scientist and Rhizoterra Inc. co-founder Jill Clapperton. The session will explore facets of soil health, and Blake will discuss how cover crops can benefit soil – and the bottom line.
  • In another session (“Taking a Global View of Farmland Conservation and Biodiversity”), Blake will share global perspectives on agriculture he gained while traveling as 2013 Nuffield Scholar learning about using multi-species cover crops. He’ll also describe his farm’s focus on soil health through cover crops and minimal tillage, and his view that taking yields to the next level requires adopting a biological approach to farm productivity.
  • During a Saturday morning “Breakfast Networking Session,” participants can bring their questions to ask Blake in a more informal setting while enjoying a free breakfast.

All are welcome to attend. Register online at or by contacting Erica Andorf at or (515) 232-5661. Special rates are available for students and Practical Farmers members, and those who register by Jan. 15.

This year’s event focuses on the decisions Iowa farmers face as they wrestle with challenges from profit margins and markets to erosion and soil health, and spotlights a range of possible solutions to help make farms more resilient. From sessions on extended crop rotations and cover crops, to soil and land stewardship, to opportunities in non-GMO and organic crops, the conference aims to equip attendees with knowledge to confidently chart the future of their farms.

Additional field crop sessions at the conference include:

  • Beginning Organic: Transitioning, Certifying and Q&A
  • Recordkeeping Analysis Platforms for Crop and Livestock Farmers
  • Growing and Marketing Non-GMO Crops
  • Back to Our Roots: Re-Establishing On-Farm Prairie for Multiple Goals
  • Rotations and Diversity: How to Shake it Up
  • Iowa Farms in a Changing Climate
  • An Iowa Perspective on Cover Crop Species – (In partnership with Iowa Learning Farms)
  • Adding Specialty Crops to a “Traditional” Iowa Farm
  • Economic Values of Conservation and Cropping Diversity
  • Strategically Adding Prairie to Working Land to Improve Farmland Healt

In addition, a second Saturday morning breakfast session will give farmers the chance to chat with rhizosphere ecologist Jill Clapperton, and a third Saturday morning breakfast session will focus on non-GMO crops.

Soil Health Short Course: Those who want an even more in-depth understanding of soil health can sign up for a pre-conference short course – “Healthy Soil for Healthy Crops” – on Thursday, Jan. 22, from 1-7 p.m., and Friday, Jan. 23, from 8-11:30 a.m., at Oakwood Road Church, on the south side of Ames. Learn about the soil ecosystem and components of healthy soils. The course will teach how farmers can assess their soils and manage land to improve soil function, and emphasize ways to optimize crop production now while building soil for the future.

Course teachers include Cindy Cambardella, soil scientist at the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment; Mike Castellano, agronomy professor at Iowa State University; Rick Cruse, assistant agronomy professor at ISU; and Andrew Hoiberg, who oversees research and product development for Calcium Products.

The conference will also feature a performance of “Map of My Kingdom,”a play about the critical issue of land transition that was commissioned by Practical Farmers and written by Iowa playwright Mary Swander; 19 other in-depth workshops covering topics in livestock, horticulture, farm transition and more; seven additional Saturday morning breakfast sessions; five other in-depth “U-Pick” sessions on topics chosen this fall by Practical Farmers members; and a second pre-conference short course – “Tell Your Story: The Farm Legacy Letter.”

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2015 annual conference is supported by several major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Calcium Products; eMerge Genetics; Iowa Learning Farms; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy and Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Iowa SARE; Sustainable Farm Partners; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; and WeedGuardPlus.


Founded in 1985, Practical Farmers of Iowa is an open, supportive and diverse organization of farmers and friends of farmers that seeks to strengthen farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Farmers in our network produce corn, soybeans, beef cattle, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. For additional information, call (515) 232-5661 or visit


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

Tamsyn Jones | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 |