By Susan ThompsonLake Panorama Times
Since 1998, the Lake Panorama Rural Improvement Zone (RIZ) has made it possible for Lake Panorama home and lot owners to use a portion of their property tax dollars to fund erosion control and water quality efforts. RIZ funds an annual dredging program that removes silt from Lake Panorama and portions of the Middle Raccoon River north of the lake.
In recent years, some RIZ funds also have been used to slow the flow of sediment into the lake. Three wetlands on streams that lead into Lake Panorama are in place to help protect water quality, and two more wetlands are in the planning stages.
In late summer 2022, Tamara Deal, a Lake Panorama resident, made a presentation to the RIZ board of trustees about the potential impact the use of cover crops on farmland upstream could have on the lake’s water quality. Deal had studied the use of cover crops as a way to improve soil health and profitability on her family’s farm. That led to her becoming an advocate for cover crops and making presentations to groups about the link between soil health and improved water quality.
Following her presentation, the RIZ board did some additional research. The result was a one-year trial program to fund the use of cover crops on row-crop land in the Lake Panorama watershed. Three farmers near Yale participated in that 2022 trial. This fall, the Lake Panorama RIZ Cover Crop Program is open to all producers who have row-crop land in Guthrie County that is within the Lake Panorama watershed.
Cover crops are grown in addition to primary cash crops such as corn and soybean. Cover crops can reduce soil erosion, increase soil organic matter and fertility, improve soil structure and promote water infiltration.
Aerial seeding of cover crops can be done with airplanes or helicopters, either before or after the cash crop is harvested. Another option is to use a drill to plant seed directly into the ground. Cover crops protect the soil in the late fall, winter and early spring.
Lane Rumelhart is the Lake Panorama Association (LPA) project manager and oversees the RIZ cover crop program.
“Lots of farmers have been flying it on, so they aren’t running over their crop right before harvest,” he says. “This gets them better germination and a longer growing season.”
Producers enrolling in the program must commit at least 25 acres to cover crops and have those acres verified as meeting all other requirements. The RIZ program reimburses producers up to $15 per acre for cover crops.
It can cost up to $40 per acre to plant a cover crop. There are both Iowa and federal programs that offer farmers financial incentives for planting cover crops and other water quality and conservation efforts. Farmers enrolled in the RIZ program also can participate in these other cost share programs.
“Cover crops are good for Lake Panorama because they hold soil in place in late winter and early spring so there is less silt runoff,” Rumelhart says. “Cover crops help keep nutrients in farm fields rather than allowing those to escape and lead to water quality problems, such as blue green algae blooms. The idea is that with more cover crops upstream, Lake Panorama will slowly gain improved water quality.”
Dave Deardorff of Yale is one of the three producers who participated in the RIZ trial program in 2022. He is a member of the Guthrie County Soil and Water Conservation District Commission and has been planting cover crops on 240 tillable acres for the last seven years. He enrolled those 240 acres in the RIZ cover crop program both last year and again this year.
“This gives some additional coverage to the ground,” Deardorff says. “I’ve been using no-till for more than 25 years, which keeps soil in place. Adding a cover crop helps reduce overall soil and wind erosion. I see more people in our area using no-till or minimum tillage. This, along with a cover crop, is one of the best ways to conserve the soil.”
Deardorff uses aerial seeding of rye for his cover crop.
“Last year we didn’t have enough moisture to get a good stand, but this fall was better,” he says. “We got a good stand, and I’ve been able to graze my cows this fall. Often rye will green back up in the spring and give another chance to graze cattle before row crops are planted.”
Brothers Kevin and Kendall Kipp of Yale also participated in the 2022 trial program and enrolled the same acres in the RIZ cost share program this fall. Kendall says there wasn’t enough soil moisture last year to get a good stand, but this year was different.
“We had it flown on right after Labor Day and then got some good rain,” he says. “By the time harvest happened, there was probably 4 inches of growth. It’s pretty even, and we have been able to graze our cattle on it this fall.”
Lake Panorama RIZ owns 235 acres of tillable ground. In 2022, the Kipp brothers leased that ground on a one-year contract. This year, a half-dozen bidders vied for the chance to rent the RIZ ground. Heidi Kipp, the 20-year-old daughter of Kendall and Teresa Kipp, was awarded a three-year farm lease for the RIZ ground.
“My brother, Walker, is 25. We both were born and raised on the farm and have helped any way we could since we could walk,” Heidi says. “This is my first year having land of my own to farm.”
One requirement of the three-year lease is that all the RIZ tillable acres be protected by a cover crop.
“I’m interested to see how the cover crops work,” Heidi says. “I think erosion control and improvements to soil health are two important factors, and I hope to see improved yields in the future. There are 45 acres of fenced land, so being able to graze cattle is another benefit for me. I think the RIZ program will result in improved water quality.”
Keith Buttler has owned and operated Buttler Agronomy Services in Guthrie Center for 30 years. He provides agricultural inputs, services and recommendations to area farmers. He uses cover crops on his own farm and applies what he has learned to help others.
“I started it more as an erosion control tool. I have some land with steeper slopes, where a hard rain can cause a lot of erosion,” Buttler says. “I’ve always used no-till but added the cover crops 14 years ago. The practice slows erosion, helps capture nutrients in the soil, increases biological activity, and soil health steadily improves each year. On my farm, yields have improved 15-20% because of the combination of both cover crops and improved genetics.”
Buttler can help producers arrange seeding either into standing crops with an airplane, or after harvest with grain drills.
“Most farmers use rye,” he says. “It’s winter hardy, so it can go dormant in the winter, then grow again in the spring.”
Buttler says incentives such as the RIZ cover crop program make a difference.
“This year I’ve had three times the amount of people putting in cover crops than last year,” he says. “I think the early harvest caused by drought conditions encouraged some to give it a try, plus there are several cost share programs.”
Randy Glade’s farm operation is on both sides of Redwood Road just west of Lake Panorama. He’s been using no-till for more than 30 years and planting cover crops after harvest for more than 15 years.
Most research shows after three continuous years of cover crops, farmers will see better yields, and that’s been the case for Glade. Over time, his soybean yield has increased nine to 12 bushels per acre and his corn yield more than 25 bushels an acre by not tilling his farm ground and planting cover crops.
This year, Glade doubled the number of acres where he planted a cover crop for a total of 111 acres. He enrolled in the RIZ cover crop program and is pleased with this year’s results. Iowa Cover Crop of Jefferson aerial applied rye into standing corn on his farm Sept. 15.
“The timing was excellent because, over the next three days, we had a half-inch of rain. That helped get a better than average stand,” he says. “This has provided good grazing pasture for my feeder cattle.”
“The combination of cover crops and no-till results in looser planting-depth soil, which leads to better soil-to-seed contact,” Glade says. “I also get better water infiltration, which allows the soil to catch and hold more rain.”
By early December, there were 10 producers with 1,279 acres approved for funding as part of the 2023 Lake Panorama RIZ Cover Crop Program. It’s expected additional participants will be approved in December. For more information, contact Lane Rumelhart by calling the LPA office at 641-755-2301 or email him at email@example.com