SWCD Project encourages producers to evaluate economics of farmland use

Submitted by Sara Berges
Allamakee SWCD Project Coordinator

With the current downtrend in commodity prices, one way farmers can minimize risk is to spread out income and diversify their farming operations. A new project, funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, will focus on providing information to producers and landowners about the economics/environmental impact associated with different land uses. The district’s project coordinator, Sara Berges, is available to discuss these options with interested producers.
The focus of this project is to encourage cropland conversion to pasture, adding a small grain to a rotation, utilizing cover crops on manure applied acres, and including conservation provisions in farm leases.
Soils with lower yields (marginal soils) often do not yield enough to be profitable. With the drop in commodity prices and steady input costs, vast stretches of farmland had a negative annual net return in 2015. A study conducted by ISU evaluating row crop profitability in 2010-2013 and 2015 determined that in 2010-2011, profits across the state commonly exceeded $200/acre. In 2015, data showed that 27% of all Iowa farmland in row crops are expected to have lost $100 or more per acre with the trend expected to continue into 2016. An interactive map of Iowa profitability for the study years can be found at http://mesonet.agron.iastate.edu/GIS/apps/profit.

Cropland/Pasture Conversion and Adding Small Grains
Alternate land uses may be more profitable in the long-term such as converting the ground to pasture or adding a small grain to a corn-soybean rotation. Financial assistance may be available from NRCS through the EQIP program for either of these practices. If you are interested in converting crop ground to pasture, an NRCS grazing plan will need to be developed to determine eligible cost-shared practices such as internal fencing, watering systems, seeding, and rotational grazing. EQIP can also provide cost-share for adding a small-grain to a rotation. A small-grain workshop will be set up this summer to help producers learn more about small grain production, harvest, and marketing. If you are interested in small grains, please let Sara know what specific questions you have and what small grain crops you are interested in planting.

Cover Crops with Manure Application
Cover crops have gained popularity in recent years. However, they are rarely used on acres that have had manure application. By planting winter-hardy cover crops on these acres, erosion would be minimized and nutrients would be scavenged from the manure to reduce nutrient runoff. Cost-share may be available through EQIP or state cost-share for interested individuals. On-farm demonstration sites will be established using different methods for manure and cover crop application. A field day will be set up this fall to showcase the different methods of application and the many benefits of cover crops.

Including Conservation in Farm Leases
Another important component of farming is rental acres and the landlord-tenant relationship. Landowners can play an important role in ensuring that their farm is managed for long-term productivity. One way to do this is to update the NRCS conservation plan to address areas of conservation concern and to attach it to the farm lease. Sara has been assisting landowners and tenants with this process for the last three years. If you, as a landowner or tenant, have questions about how to include conservation in your farm lease, please call or stop by.
If you have interest in any aspect of this project, please call the Allamakee SWCD office at 563-568-2246 ext. 3, stop by 635 9th St NW in Waukon, or email Sara at sara.berges@ia.nacdnet.net. Keep an eye on the Allamakee SWCD website (allamakeeswcd.org) for updated project information and dates for events.