Cover crops on county fairgrounds in Iowa

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Evan Brehm)

A new exhibit at the Clayton County Fairgrounds

May 2, 2024 | Kriss Nelson

Various cover crop species are displayed through 24 knowledge plots at the Clayton County Fairgrounds in Garnavillo.

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) farmer-member Ed Ruff from Farmersburg proposed installing cover crop knowledge plots to fill in the bare soil left from an event held last summer at the fairgrounds.

“This is an impressive cover crop plot,” says ISA Conservation Agronomist Evan Brehm. “The plot has not only provided a space for field days, but a constant opportunity for people, whether they are farmers or the public, to come and see what cover crops look like, how they over winter like and the ability to identify them.”

A farmer and crop consultant, Ruff came up with the idea to plant cover crop knowledge plots after attending an ISA event. He spoke with ISA’s conservation agronomy lead, Mike Gilman, and conservation agronomist Ben Porepp. During the event, Ruff learned more about ISA’s efforts to promote conservation practices and implemented his own cover crop knowledge plots.

“I realized this area would be a good location and an opportunity to test and showcase cover crop varieties,” says Ruff.

Brehm appreciates the work Ruff is doing.

“Crop consultants and agricultural retailers are trusted advisors to their customers,” says Brehm. “By promoting the benefits of adding conservation in the form of cover crops, they can spread the message to a broader audience and talk about the opportunities that exist throughout the different corners of the state. It’s a pleasure to have people like Ed on our level who want to help promote these conservation practices.”

Once Ruff gained permission from the fair board, he contacted ISA and St. Olaf Ag Sales and Service for the donation of a variety of cover crop species to plant in the 24 plots.

Three planting dates were used for plot installation, spanning from mid-September to the end of October, with hand seeding except for a drilled border.

Ruff planted a variety of species and mixes, including cowpeas, camelina, triticale, cereal rye, oats, turnips, and radishes, in each of the plots.

Visitors can also visualize corn growing after a cover crop termination.

Take a tour

ISA offers another way for people to view cover crops in the state. Through their Cover Crops in Action tour, nearly 60 locations have been designated as stops showcasing various species and management practices.

“There are increasingly discussions about the advantages of cover crops in conservation and agriculture,” says Brehm. “Collaborating with people from different parts of Iowa will help spread the message and create opportunities for farmers and landowners who are curious about cover crops. These knowledge plots