HOLLAND, Iowa - For Fred Abels, the health of his farm's soil is a top priority. To steward his soil, he uses cover crops to keep it covered, retain nutrients and provide some forage for livestock. He also manages his grazing routine with soil health in mind, and takes soil tests periodically so he knows what's really going on underfoot and whether he needs to adjust his management practices in response.
Come hear from Fred about his efforts to sustain his farm's soils during a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day he is hosting on Thursday, June 26, from 1-4 p.m., near Holland. Fred's farm, K & A Acres, is located at 20902 J Ave., west of Holland. The event "Sustaining the Black Gold: Cover Crops, Grazing and Soil Tests" is free and open to anyone. The field day is sponsored by Grundy County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Attendees will learn about Fred's experiences with cover crops, which include planting cash crops directly into cover crop stands, and will get to see a field where he's done this. Fred will also discuss managed grazing and discuss results from soil tests taken on cash crop, pasture ground and hayfield farm ground types. Additional speakers include Terry Basol, with Iowa State University Extension, who will speak on nutrient reduction strategies, and Lance Gunderson with Ward Labs Inc., who will speak about the Haney soil test.
"I started planting cover crops in 2009," Fred says. "The biggest thing that I really discovered this spring is how cover crops affect soil tilth."
Fred says that last spring, in order to get some silage he could chop, he took a couple of his hayfields and planted corn on one and soybeans on the other. He seeded winter rye into the corn silage field and oats into the soybean field. Then, this spring, he planted corn-on-corn into the winter rye field.
"I recently started sidedressing nitrogen, and when I did the field that had been in soybeans last year, the ground was still so hard from being hay ground that I took a bag of shear bolts along with me," Fred says. "If I hit a rock or something, the knife would shear instead of busting. I got the field half done and was out of shear bolts. Where I planted into the winter rye, I've not had one bolt break. The rye really loosens the soil and improves the tilth."
K & A Acres grows no-till corn and soybeans on most of the acreage, but has reserved some as pasture. Fred uses cover crops, strip grazing and grazing corn to economically feed his animals and ecologically keep his soil covered.
Directions: K & A Acres is located 2 miles west of Holland on County Road D35, and one-half mile south on J Avenue.
Practical Farmers of Iowa's 2014 field day season features 35 field days around Iowa. All field days are open to the public, and most are free to attend. The guide is available on Practical Farmers' website, or contact the PFI office at (515) 232-5661 to request a printed copy.