ARCADIA — When Loran Steinlage first turned to cover crops on his northeast Iowa farm, he decided to interseed cover crops between his row crops.
Steinlage, who owns and operates Flolo Farms with his wife, Brenda, has spent the past 10 years adapting practices and equipment to make their cover-crop practices work on their farm on the edge of Iowa’s Driftless area.
Steinlage’s experimentation includes modifications to equipment for planting and harvesting, and one year he had to save several hundred acres of corn after a dying cereal rye crop went down over the top of young corn.
“I laid awake that night wondering what I was doing wrong,” Steinlage said during a “New Perspectives on Cover Crops and Conservation” farmer forum workshop hosted by Buffalo-Trempealeau County Farmer Network on March 15. “That morning, I headed out to the shop, and six hours later a drill rolled out of the shop so we could windrow the cereal rye off of the corn.
“Were we interseeding that day? No. We were saving a crop that day.”
Interseeding a cover crop between rows of corn preserves moisture, combats weeds and adds organic matter to the soil, Steinlage said.
Steinlage farms a total of about 1,500 acres in northeast Iowa and used to rotate corn and soybeans. Changes in regulations, cultural cropping practices, understandings of soil fertility and soil health, pest management, weather and consumer preferences led him to rewrite his farming system playbook.
Flolo Farms now uses a companion/relay no-till cropping system that focuses on rotations to keep a living plant in the soil at all times, helping aid in moisture management and weed suppression.
Steinlage’s farm is currently producing corn, soybeans, cereal rye, winter wheat, malt barley and buckwheat.
Steinlage — who has been presenting this winter everywhere from MOSES Organic University to Australia and back — said cropping decisions are often made at the last minute based on timing, weather or needs.
“Mother Nature doesn’t have a very good sense of humor,” Steinlage said. “You can have the best plan going in to this, but it’s going to go back to knowing how to react and adapt.”