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Every year, as leaves turn orange and crops dry up, Iowa sees more and more green out in the fields. Cover crops are becoming more popular among farmers and many of them are in the first few years of figuring out the practice.

In Louisa County, farmer Elyssa McFarland shows some month-old cereal rye.

She says, “Harvest this year has been pretty slow. It’s been that way across the state. So it’s been a challenge, we’d like to have more cover crop seeded than what we do right now. But unfortunately we were too dry in August and now that we’ve moved into harvest, it’s been a struggle and it’s been too wet.”

McFarland just started working with cover crops a few years ago, “So we’re pretty new to the practice and we’re kind of getting our feet under us trying to figure out exactly how this particular practice fits into our larger operation and our overall goals.”

Pointing to the roots of some cover crops she dug up, she explains that it helps the soil structure by making it porous and allowing water to get into the soil profile.

She says, “That’s really important for reducing runoff as well as having more water available to the subsequent crop.”

McFarland is also a field manager for the Soil Health Partnership, she explains the experiences from from a lot of farmers in the program have helped, “I’ve been able to learn from farmers all across the state on how they implement cover crops in different ways, and I’ve taken that knowledge and I’ve brought it down here right to this farm that we’re on today.”

Walking into the corn rows, McFarland shows off the green cereal rye in the field, “This looks a little bit different because it’s been growing in-between the corn rows where it’s a little bit more shaded.”

McFarland explains, “Every farm and every soil type is really different and so it’s important to make a plan and have a specific goal for what a cover crop is going to do, or reduced tillage management strategy is going to do on that farm. And think about it as kind of a management strategy across the whole operation. And figuring out what the risks and benefits are every step of the way.”