The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) recently released a business case featuring SHP farmers Roger and Wesley Zylstra, whose on-farm research is evaluating incorporation of cover crops into their nutrient management strategy. The business case details how they adapted their management system to meet soil health, yield and economic goals.
“We are working to continue to be competitive with our yields, while striving to improve the health of our soil,” Roger Zylstra said.
The Zylstras, who raise row crops and hogs in central Iowa, joined SHP in 2015. With the help of their SHP field manager, they began an SHP research project with a strip trial evaluating the impact of cover crops in a system that relies on manure as a main nutrient source. They have been collecting data from the field the past 5 years.
“Because we have swine and fall-apply the manure, we think cover crops really help sequester the nitrogen to the soil,” Zylstra said.
By adjusting nitrogen sources and timing, the farm is now using the same amount of nitrogen per acre, but their average corn yields grew from 140-170 bu/acre to 170-200 bu/acre on average.
Additionally, results from soil health testing on the Zylstra’s SHP field trial show that respiration – which is an indicator of microbial activity – has increased significantly on the cover cropped portion of the field. One benefit of that microbial activity has been an increased rate of residue turnover on those acres.
In recent wet years, Roger credits the cover crops with improving soil structure and reducing soil surface compaction. Although difficult to quantify the value of changes in soil structure, it allows them to get into the field sooner, making a difference in getting the crop planted, sprayed and harvested in a timely manner.
The Zylstras have made incremental changes and experimented in order to dial in a system that works for them. To read the entire business case visit www.soilhealthpartnership.org/zylstra.
About the Soil Health Partnership
The Soil Health Partnership is a farmer-led initiative that promotes the adoption of soil health practices for economic and environmental benefit. A program of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the partnership extends to more than 200 working farms in 16 states. While building a peer-to-peer network, SHP collects on-farm data to evaluate the impacts of soil health practices on the soil, the environment, and the farmer’s bottom line. For more information, visit https://soilhealthpartnership.org.