Research and Media Coordinator
Nick joined PFI in December of 2014. He writes about PFI members and issues important to them in the ag media, primarily focusing on diversified crop rotations, cover crops and integrated crop/livestock systems; and assists with all aspects of the Cooperators' Program. He also produces PFI’s videos and manages the YouTube channel, and hosts and produces On-Farm: Conversations with Practical Farmers, PFI's podcast.
He grew up in rural southeast Iowa, outside of Wapello. He has a BA degree from the University of Iowa in 2008, where he majored in Journalism and English, and an MS degree from Iowa State University in 2011, where he majored in Sustainable Agriculture. His research interests focused on soil erosion, water quality, and the use of conservation practices.
From 2012-2013, Nick worked for a non-profit organization in rural Ecuador, where he worked with farmers, interns, and volunteers on rural community development projects. Before joining PFI, Nick worked as the kitchen manager at Cafe Beaudelaire in Ames.
By Meghan Filbert, Alisha Bower and Nick Ohde
Numerous studies show that continuous living cover – whether it’s perennial pasture, diversified crop rotation with small grains and hay, or cover crops in a corn and soybean system – benefit many species of wildlife, from birds – whether they are hunted or non-hunted species – to insects to fish. Here are a few that we’ve come across as we seek to use peer-reviewed research to inform our thinking about keeping roots in the ground year round.
Are you growing rye or winter wheat for grain or seed this year? What’s the plan after your harvest? If you’re looking to add nitrogen for a 2019 corn crop, now might be the time to think about frost seeding red clover into that rye or wheat in late February.
The research is clear: if you can find a market for small grains, adding a third crop to your rotation yields economic, agronomic and environmental benefits. Iowa State University and Dr. Matt Liebman’s research near Boone shows that corn and especially soybeans yield better when grown in rotation, soybeans have less incidences of disease, soil health metrics improve, erosion decreases and water quality improves – all this with equal returns to land and management.
You can learn more about Matt Liebman’s research and many of the benefits of small grains production from other farmers in this video from our Rotationally Raised series:
You can also check out a farminar Matt hosted a couple years ago with Dick Sloan and his presentation from the 2016 small grains short course at the PFI Annual Conference.
In Iowa, most of this research and most farmers’ experience has been with adding oats and/or hay to their rotation. But now, with more and more people planting cover crops – and most of them planting cereal rye, more and more people have been raising it for seed. Saving a few dollars on cover crop seed is great, but the real opportunity comes after rye harvest when you can grow another crop.
Many people in that boat are planting multi-species cover crop mixes, and for farmers with cattle, that’s tough to beat. A balanced grazing ration that likely includes a few protein sources and plenty of sorghum-sudan grass is a great way to save money on hay costs later in the year, and maybe be able to rest some permanent pastures in the fall so they’ll produce better next year. Learn more about what farmers with livestock are planting after small grains harvest in this episode of Rotationally Raised:
Growing Your Own Nitrogen
But for row crop farmers, harvesting small grains during the summer presents a perfect opportunity to grow some nitrogen. It’s something organic farmers have been doing for years to augment manure as a nitrogen source. However, most organic farmers either have hay in their rotation or grow oats, a spring small grain, and seed red clover with the legume/forage hopper of their drill at oat planting time.
But what about seeding clover into an already established winter small grain, like rye or winter wheat? Can you do it? “It’s always worked for us,” say Doug Alert and Margaret Smith, who own and operate Ash Grove Farm near Hampton in north-central Iowa. They’ve been frost seeding red clover into winter small grains for about the past 10 years, and have always managed to get a stand of clover established.
And, because they’re organic, clover establishment is crucial: “We can’t afford to have a failure because that’s a major source of nitrogen for the corn crop,” Doug says. Iowa State University research has shown that farmers can expect a nitrogen credit anywhere from 75 – 100 lb / acre.
Benefits of Red Clover
Dr. Bill Deen studies cropping systems and nitrogen management at Guelph University in Ontario, where winter wheat is a more predominant component of cover crop rotations. Many of his findings stem from a long-term crop rotation study started in 1980 that, among other configurations, includes a rotation with red clover frost-seeded into winter wheat ahead of corn.
“What’s remarkable about red clover is you get the N credit while simultaneously increasing corn yields,” he says – in other words, the clover provides additional benefits that increase yields above and beyond its contribution to nitrogen, a phenomena known as the rotation effect. “We’re not quite sure what the mechanisms are. Certainly it does add N to the system,” he says, “but it also seems to improve the use of N by the corn crop,” Deen suspects that it may have something do with how clover affects the soil.
The other advantage of red clover over other cover crops is that the nitrogen release pattern works well ahead of corn. “It seems to have an effect on soil nitrate that is very favorable when you look at the pattern of demand by corn,” he says. Radishes, for example, may release the nitrogen too early, and rye might hold onto it for too long. “Red clover is the most consistent supplier of nitrogen,” he says.
Red Clover in Practice
Two challenges to working red clover into a winter small grain system are planting and terminating. For planting, Dr. Deen agrees with Doug and Margaret – as soon as the snow is off, but the ground is still frozen, it’s time to frost seed. “Going from impassable snow to mud is often a very short time frame,” Doug says, “So you have to be ready to go when you hit that window.”
- Ideal frost seeding conditions;
- Selecting clover varieties for frost seeding and your management goals;
- And which legumes should be planted instead for best effect.
Frost Seeding Red Clover in Iowa
Actually doing the seeding isn’t that tough. Iowa State recommends broadcasting 10-15 lbs/ac onto frozen ground and the seeding method is likely going to be dictated by what equipment you have available. “I like that you don’t have to have a top of the line system for it to work,” Margaret says. When they first started seeding red clover into rye, Doug used a 3-point mounted fertilizer spinner, and that worked okay – he could cover a 20-25 ft. swath. Later, he switched to a grain drill and just used it as a drop seeder, but that was only 15 feet of width, and trying to cover a lot of acres quickly is tough on a drill.
So last year, he built a toolbar specifically for seeding red clover – it adds seeding capacity, and it also links into his auto-steer, which is important because he’s doing a lot of this seeding at night, when the ground is nice and hard. His setup – shown in the photo – is a Gandy Orbit-Air seed hopper mounted on a used sprayer boom with a hydraulic metering system.
With this setup, he can seed 40 acres between fills and because he can drive 7-8 mph he can cover around 20 ac/hr. “This is all very important because of the small time window,” he says.
And, some years, the window is too short, and they don’t get a chance to frost seed. But they still seed it, even if it’s a little late, and haven’t had a failure so far. And that’s not necessarily intuitive. “Clover’s low-light tolerance is phenomenal,” says Margaret, “To me, it looks like it should never survive,” when looking at the thick blanket of rye that soon covers the clover, but adds that they’ve never had a problem getting a stand of clover established.
Red Clover Termination Before Corn
Once it’s seeded, there’s little management of the clover between seeding time and termination prior to corn planting. And because Doug and Margaret are organic, herbicide termination is not an option. Instead, they have traditionally plowed the clover as soon as they could in the spring; likely right after oat planting is done. They’ve been debating whether the plow is the right option for termination – or whether a lighter tillage pass would be sufficient – and whether spring or the previous fall is the appropriate time to terminate.
For conventional farmers, light tillage and plowing are still options, but termination with herbicide can also do the job. Penn State University Extension – where red clover is more commonly used as a cover crop – has some good guidelines. They recommend the following: “An excellent herbicide program to terminate a red clover stand prior to planting corn is one pint of 2,4-D LVE and one pint of dicamba (Banvel or Clarity). Apply 2,4 D and/or dicamba 7 to 14 days prior to or 3 to 5 days after corn planting if corn seeds are planted at least 1.5 inches deep. Do not plant soybeans after dicamba application. Applying 1 to 2 pounds per acre of atrazine will help provide additional control of the red clover. Glyphosate or paraquat alone are not recommended to kill a legume such as red clover.”
Red Clover Green Manure Resources
Practical Farmers of Iowa continues to conduct on-farm trials on the usage of red clover as a cover crop. PFI members have conducted research on many of the topics discussed in this article, from comparing red clover to mid-summer-planted mixes, to the nitrogen value of red clover, to interseeding clover into winter rye, and much more. To find the results of these trials, check out practicalfarmers.org/research-reports and search for “red clover.”
Here are a few:
Iowa State University also has a good production guide on using clover with winter small grains: “Intercropping Winter Cereal Grains and Red Clover” (PM 2025).
In my article for the latest issue of the Practical Farmer, our quarterly newsletter, I focused on buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), some of the farmers who grow it, and its culinary uses. Many farmers grow the crop as a cover crop, because it’s pretty easy to grow, can suppress weeds, and research has shown it can also make soil phosphorus more available to subsequent crops. But buckwheat is also a delicious food: its groats can be eaten whole or it can be milled into flour.
One of the PFI members I talked to was Peter Kraus, who is originally from Decorah – where his parents Barbara and Kevin run Canoe Creek Produce – but now lives with his wife in northern Wisconsin where they teach environmental stewardship. He says that their long-term plan includes moving back to Decorah to farm and teach farm-to-table education, build support for growing and using small grains in the area, and building soil and setting down roots. He sent me his recipe for buckwheat sourdough bread, which includes buckwheat groats and flour. Enjoy!
Peter’s Buckwheat Sourdough Bread Recipe (adapted from Tartine Book No. 3)
Optional ingredients: toasted walnuts, maple syrup, dried fruit.
First, I mix the sourdough starter or leaven with the flour and half of the water to form a dough and then let it sit for up to an hour. While I am waiting, I bringing the rest of the water to a boil and pour over the toasted groats to soften them. Once the groats have cooled, I thoroughly mix all the remaining ingredients together.
I let the dough ferment in a closed plastic container for several hours depending on temperature and strength of the starter. Every hour I wet my hands and stretch and fold the dough on itself four ways. Once the dough is billowy and bubbly I shape the loaf on a floured surface. I I preheat the oven to 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. I place the shaped loaf into an enclosed baking vessel like a dutch oven or a bread pan with a sheet pan over it, and let it rest for 15 minutes. I scratch the loaf surface with a razor blade or sharp, serrated knife to score it. Then bake for 20 minutes before removing the lid to let the loaf brown up. Finish baking for about 20-30 minutes more at 400-450 degrees.
I had the chance to tag along to the Jefferson airport with the crew from Stott Aerial Spray and Bill Frederick of Iowa Cover Crop last week to shoot some footage for some upcoming cover crop videos we are producing. I cut together a little snippet, and thought some of you would be interested. For more info on where to find businesses to help seed cover crops, check out our Cover Crop Business Directory.
I’m guessing most of you are done with aerial seeding, but should be going on the ground soon – drilling and air-seeding as the beans and corn come out. Good luck with harvest and fall cover crops seeding!
We have the second video presentation up from last month’s conference – “Rotationally Raised: Making Small Grains Work”. This presentation is by South Dakota farmer Lee Brockmueller, who presented about how small grains benefit his crops, bottom line and livestock. His presentations cover all the basics of raising both winter wheat and oats, from variety selection all the way through harvest and marketing.
In case you missed our the video of the conference we released, of Dr. Pete Lammers of University of Wisconsin-Platteville talking about feeding small grains to livestock, here it is:
You can find PDFs of all of the presentations on our small grains page.
Did you know that PFI has a podcast?
Our first season just wrapped up – our first podcast is called On-Farm: Conversations with Practical Farmers – and we have 17 episodes available. Basically, these episodes are a 45 min – 1 hour conversation between me and a PFI member. This year, we focused on people who hosted field days, so if you missed a field day that you wish you hadn’t missed, you might be able to find a pretty in-depth conversation with the host on the podcast.
How to Listen to Podcasts
For the final episode of the first season of On-Farm, we visited the farm of Maria and Ron Rosmann of Rosmann Family Farms near Harlan. The Rosmanns have been instrumental in many of the most important agricultural movements of the last 30 years: They were pioneers in organic livestock and row crops, and were among the core of farm families that helped Practical Farmers of Iowa get off the ground in the mid 1980s.
On today’s show, we’ll talk about the history of their farm, their upcoming field day on September 9th, organic row crop and hog production, and the next generation – all three of their sons are working in agriculture, two of them on the family farm. You can check out a short video about their upcoming field day: https://youtu.be/zFtYCY2Ut7k – or learn more in this press release.
This week on the show, we have Jamie Hostetler of Rolling Meadows. Jamie farms with his family near Bellevue in eastern Iowa, where they raise 100% grass-fed beef and sell Red Devon cattle for seed stock. In 2010, shortly after moving to the area, they seeded row crop ground down to pasture and have been practicing high-density grazing to regenerate the soil and produce gourmet-quality, grass-finished beef.
On September 16, the Hostetlers will be hosting a field day on their farm focused on all things grass-fed beef production. They’ll talk production, from grass-efficient genetics, interseeding annuals to perennial pastures, and rotational grazing, all the way to market – what a grass finished animal looks like when its ready for market. On today’s show, we’ll talk all things regenerative grazing and grass-fed beef.
This week on the show, we have Earl Canfield of Dunkerton in northeast Iowa. Earl farms with his wife Jane and their four children. Their children represent the sixth generation of the Canfield family to be on the land since the mid-1860s, for which they received a Heritage Farm Award at the Iowa State Fair in 2016. The Canfields are making a transition from growing strictly corn and soybeans for commodity markets to growing and direct marketing a diverse mixture of value-added products, including whole grains, mixed feeds, produce and eggs.
On September 7th, they’ll be hosting a field day on their farm focused on all the things that it takes to grow and market oats and hay in Iowa. In addition, the Canfield Family has spent the last two years relearning how to grow small grains in Iowa. They have researched machinery, production strategies and varieties, in addition to seeking potential market streams. One opportunity is to direct-market small grains to small-scale livestock owners as either whole grains or as part of complete mixed feeds. We’ll talk about that and more on this week’s show.
If you haven’t gotten your Summer 2017 issue of the Practical Farmer, our quarterly newsletter, it should be arriving in the mail soon. In it, you’ll find a couple articles about food. One is authored by former PFI staffer and chef Tomoko Ogawa (it’s a fascinating update on her culinary adventures in Japan and Spain since leaving PFI 3 years ago). The other is an article I wrote “Cooking Adventurously to Support Local Food and Farmers” after talking to members Jamie Hostetler (cattle farmer), Jordan Clasen (veggie grower) and Bobby and Ty Gustafson (meat locker owners).
I wanted to know how friends of farmers could support farmers with their purchasing power. As a friend of farmer myself, what do farmers want me to eat? I get into some of their responses in my article, but a lot of it comes down to what’s good for the soil. The one caveat is that sometimes the vegetables and cuts of meat that farmers need to sell are ones that are a bit trickier to cook.
So I bought some grass-fed beef (helps support farmers who put more perennials on the landscape) and chose a cut of meat that usually just gets ground – beef short ribs (which I had never cooked before). Then, I chose a vegetable – fava beans – that Jordan told me is good for the soil due to its ability to fix nitrogen, and its root system. But, again, how do you cook a fava bean? You can read the results in my newsletter article, but I relied on my favorite food blog Serious Eats for guidance. I adapted these recipes to my own taste, and you can too.
Fava Beans (I really just took the fava bean part of this recipe and added lots of slow cooked garlic, a little honey, a little soy sauce, a little salt, and a little red wine vinegar).
Support your local farmer and have some fun in the kitchen!