Cover crop field day at Ash Grove Farm will explore no-till termination method – July 7, Hampton

For Release: June 25, 2015

HAMPTON, Iowa — For both conventional and organic farmers, deciding the most effective way to kill a cover crop can be a challenge. Winter-killing, tilling, mowing and herbicides are four common methods, but not all work equally well with all types of cover crops. For organic systems, where herbicides aren’t an option, the challenge can be even greater.

Doug Alert and Margaret Smith operate Ash Grove Farm, where they raise and market organic-feed corn and soybeans; organic-seed soybeans, rye and oats; and hay. Doug and Margaret will share the results of a roller crimper trial to kill cover crops at a Practical Farmers of Iowa field they are hosting on Tuesday, July 7, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., near Hampton. The event – “Learning Together: Evaluating a Cover Crop Terminator” – is free and open to anyone.

Doug and Margaret have used tillage to kill the cover crops in their organic crop rotation for years. Recently, however, they started wondering about alternatives to tilling, which, while effective, can also damage soil health and reduce the weed control and nitrogen-holding benefits of a cover crop. Last year, they decided to do a pilot project on their farm using a modified rolling cornstalk chopper to crimp and terminate hairy vetch before corn.

The field day is sponsored by Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), and Organic Crop Improvement Association International.

Attendees will get to view the results of using the modified rolling cornstalk crimper – and Doug and Margaret hope guests will help evaluate this method and weigh in on whether it is worthy of broader adoption. “We want field day attendees to help us decide if this pilot demonstration is an effective practice,” Margaret says. “The cornstalk chopper worked pretty well on the hairy vetch, but we probably should have rolled it twice. We had good kill in some areas, and not as good in others.”

Doug and Margaret will also talk about no-tilling corn into hairy vetch, and discuss transitioning to organic production. Following this, participants may travel to another field site to view and discuss first-year transition to organic, and non-winter-hardy cover crops – including Southern Belle red clover and crimson clover – in oats.

In addition to their row-crop, hay and small-grains enterprises, Doug and Margaret run a cow herd and market calves through conventional markets. They also have two teenage sons involved in the farm. One farrow-to-finishes pigs, marketed through Niman Ranch; the other raises a flock of Katahdin sheep.

Directions from Hampton: Drive 1.5 miles east on state Route 3 to Raven Avenue and go south for 1.25 miles to 135th Street. The farm is one-tenth of a mile east on 135th Street.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2015 field day season features 40 field days around Iowa. All field days are open to the public, and most are free to attend. The guide is available online at, or contact the PFI office at (515) 232-5661 to request a printed copy.

Practical Farmers’ 2015 field days are supported by several sustaining and major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Applegate Natural & Organic Meats; BlueStem Organic Feed Mill; Center for Rural Affairs; Featherman Equipment Company; Grain Millers, Inc.; Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance; Iowa Beef Center; Iowa Farm Service Agency (USDA); Iowa Farmers Union in partnership with Town and Country Insurance and Hastings Mutual Insurance; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy; Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE); Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH); ISU Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Klinkenborg Aerial Spraying and Seeding, Inc.; La Crosse Seed; Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES); MOSA Organic Certification; National Wildlife Federation; Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Organic Valley – Organic Prairie – CROPP Cooperative; The Nature Conservancy in Iowa; Pro-Soil Ag Solutions; Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture; and Welter Seed and Honey Company.


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


Doug Alert and Margaret Smith | Ash Grove Farm | (641) 456-4328 | (Margaret); (Doug)

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