AMES, Iowa — Small grains crops like oats, rye and wheat were once integral parts of crop rotations across the Corn Belt, used by farmers to help break pest and disease cycles, boost soil fertility and feed livestock, among other benefits. As corn and soybeans became the dominant field crops in the region, however, small grains began to disappear from the landscape – along with the knowledge about how to successfully grow them.
These crops have started to make a comeback, however, as more farmers rediscover their benefits – and cost-saving potential. To address the knowledge gap about how to grow small grains, Practical Farmers of Iowa has launched a new video series to help farmers learn key production skills.
The series, “Rotationally Raised,” covers a range of practical topics, from why, how and where to plant different species to strategies for keeping plants healthy, among others. Starting with first episode – “Small Grains: A Revival” – viewers can learn the benefits of adding diversity to their crop rotation, then build on the knowledge with subsequent episodes that cover growing, harvesting and marketing the crops.
A new full-length episode (up to 30 minutes) airs each Friday at 4:30 p.m. CST on Practical Farmers’ YouTube channel. In keeping with Practical Farmers’ farmer-led approach, each episode features PFI farmers sharing their experiences with growing small grains.
The first six videos are already out, and can be found at youtube.com/pfivideos. A short three-minute trailer introducing the entire series is available at the same link.
The videos are the result of extensive interviews with PFI farmers – young and old, organic and conventional, and from every corner of Iowa. Also included throughout the series are conversations with scientists at Iowa State University who work closely with PFI and study diversified rotations and small grains.
“Study after study shows that diversity on the landscape yields benefits,” says Nathan Anderson, who farms with his family near Cherokee, Iowa, and grew spring wheat last year. “Corn and soybeans are basically break-even crops right now. Small grains are also break-even crops, but they provide us with a number of other benefits.”
On his farm, Nathan has been able to reduce herbicide use as a result of his diverse rotation — and he says diverse rotations can also help reduce input costs, spread out farm labor and cash flow, improve soil health and water quality, and provide habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.
The video series was named “Rotationally Raised” to capture the essential role extended rotations play in all aspects of long-term farm sustainability. “Raising corn and soybeans in rotation with a third or fourth crop – raising them rotationally – makes your corn and soybeans more productive, more profitable, and ultimately, more sustainable,” says Sarah Carlson, Midwest cover crops director for Practical Farmers of Iowa who works with farmers in the Midwest seeking to add small grains to their farms.
In addition to this video series, PFI members who grow small grains have hosted field days, led workshops and conference sessions, and shared their knowledge on webinars. To learn more about small grains in Iowa, visit practicalfarmers.org/small-grains.
— Practical Farmers of Iowa
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