Research and Field Crops Director
Stefan Gailans joined Practical Farmers of Iowa in August 2013. An agronomist by training, Stefan’s primary responsibility is to manage the Cooperators’ Program, Practical Farmers of Iowa’s vehicle for conducting on-farm research on the issues and concerns deemed most important by our members. He also coordinates field days, conference sessions and work shops for PFI’s field crops program.
Stefan grew up in southeast Wisconsin and gained an appreciation for the environment after spending many hours hunting and fishing with his family. This appreciation for the environment birthed a curiosity in the intersection of the natural landscape and the ever-present agricultural landscape. Stefan pursued this curiosity, receiving his BS degree in Crop Sciences from the University of Illinois in 2005 and an MS in Sustainable Agriculture and Crop Production & Physiology from Iowa State University in 2010. In 2013, he completed his course work for a PhD in the Agronomy Department at ISU. His primary research interests were cover crops, third crops and alternative crop rotations.
Stefan enjoys calling Ames (and Iowa!) his home and looks forward to working with farmers across the state and addressing their research concerns. When he’s not thinking about crops, Stefan enjoys listening to music, seeing local bands with friends, listening to the radio, reading science fiction novels that envision interesting (and intriguing) futures, spending time outdoors, and cooking & eating quality local food.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Practical Farmers’ Cooperators’ Program. Since 1987, members have been conducting on-farm research to answer questions they have about their farming operations. It’s one of the ways we accomplish our mission: Strengthening farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information sharing.
The Research Protocols forms outlining research projects for the 2017 season are now posted on our website. They are identified by program area (Livestock, Horticulture, Field Crops) and you can view them here:
These projects were designed by farmer-members and are currently being conducted on our members’ farms by the members themselves. The protocol forms are designed to give a snapshot of the methods and experimental designs our farmers are using to conduct research to answer their most challenging questions on their farms. Eventually, these projects are completed and documented in freely available research reports.
On-farm research through our Cooperators’ Program has long been a fundamental piece of the Practical Farmers of Iowa fabric: It is one of the primary ways members share their knowledge and experiences with one another. This year, topics range from rolling cover crops ahead of soybeans to feeding pelleted small grains to hogs to lettuce variety trials for summer production. The range of topics is a testament to our “big tent” and represents the ever-present curiosity that makes a Practical Farmer.
The fifth and final iteration of Practical Farmers’ Cover Crop Variety Trial has just been released: Cover Crop Variety Trial, 2016-2017.
As with the previous iterations, cooperators hand-seeded cover crops into small plots and assessed groundcover in the fall (prior to hard freeze) and the following spring (prior to termination). Cover crop entries studied in 2016-17 are shown in the table below. Read on to learn more about the recent iteration of the trial which was conducted by seven cooperators across the state.
According to the 2014 Organic Survey, Iowa ranked No. 10 in organic sales, but the state has since fallen out of the top 10. Given that organic sales rose nationally by 13% from 2014 to 2015, though, interest in organic farming and produce remains strong among consumers. Interest also remains strong among farmers in Iowa. As such, Scott, Jack and Linda Ausborn hosted a field day near Ida Grove to address the organic transition process, crop rotation considerations and weed control tactics. “Farming organically is fun and challenging,” Scott told those attending. “It has also connected us to a very experienced network of farmers to learn from and go to for help.” The field day was held in partnership between Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Iowa Organic Association.
Read on to learn more about this field day below. You can also learn more about Scott and his family’s farm in this episode of our podcast, On-Farm: Conversations with Practical Farmers.
According to Iowa State University, 53% of the farmland in Iowa is rented. That is to say, the majority of the farm acres in the state are farmed by people who do not own that land. That does not, however, mean that those who own farmland but don’t farm it themselves cannot do their part when it comes to conservation. Case in point are Maggie McQuown and Steve Turman who own Resilient Farms near Red Oak and hosted a field day on June 15. The two shared how they have implemented numerous soil and water conservation strategies on their land by working closely with their farm operators, Bryan and Lisa Huff. As we learned at the field day, these strategies include cover crops, riparian buffers and prairie strips.
If cover crops can successfully be established when interseeded into corn in June, this may permit farmers to use existing equipment (rather than high-clearance machines or airplanes); may permit the use of more diverse cover crop species; and ultimately may increase the amount of cover crop biomass produced. Last year, PFI farmer-cooperator Jack Boyer interseeded a 4-species and 6-species cover crop mix into seed corn at the V4-V6 stage in randomized and replicated strips. He intended to see if the cover crop could persist underneath the seed corn canopy and see how much biomass could be produced in the fall following harvest.
You can read the full report here: Interseeding Cover Crops in Seed Corn at the V4-V6 Stage.
We continue our celebration of Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Cooperators’ Program’s 30th anniversary with another installment of our “Better Know an On-Farm Research Project” series. Previously, we featured Vic Madsen discussing strip trials that investigated N fertilizer rates for corn and Dave Lubben discussing some of the biological and alternative amendments he tried for corn and soybeans. Now we train our focus on some of the earliest vegetable research trials which began in the late 1990s. For several years, lifetime PFI member Angela Tedesco ran Turtle Farm near Granger, which offered CSA shares to customers, and was among the first to conduct on-farm research as part of the emerging horticulture crowd among PFI’s ranks at the time. As Angela tells it, she was looking for ways to expand her CSA but conserve space with transplants in the greenhouse.
On March 29, Jack Boyer hosted a field day to share his experiences and successes with using cover crops on his family’s farm near Reinbeck. Jack and his wife, Marion, are lifetime members of Practical Farmers. They raise corn, seed corn, soybeans and cereal rye for cover crop seed. They have been integrating cover crops into the fields for the last 6 years and are beginning to see the benefits, but still looking to find the quantifiable financial benefit in addition to the environmental benefit. Their over-arching goal: To leave the farm in as good or better condition than when we obtained it.
We had planned to head out to the field to see cover crops and cover crop roots in a soil pit but the rain that fell all morning didn’t allow us to do so. Luckily for us, Jack and folks from the NRCS did their best to “bring the field inside.” Continue reading
Green manure cover crops best fit into extended and diversified crop rotations between the small grain and corn phases of the rotation. Farmer-cooperator Wade Dooley compared corn following two green manure strategies: a red clover + sweet mix interseeded with a cereal rye seed crop vs. a mix of oats + sorghum-sudangrass + peas + rapeseed mix (OSPR mix) established after cereal rye seed harvest.
The objective of this research project was to quantify the agronomic effect on corn yields of green manure cover crops frost-seeded with a small grain or seeded following small grain harvest. Wade lists gaining knowledge, improving soil quality and improving profitability as goals for this on-farm project.
You can read the full report here: Effect on Corn of Green Manure Cover Crops Established with Cereal Rye Seed Crop
This is the second installment of our “Better Know an On-Farm Research Project” series. In celebration of Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Cooperators’ Program turning 30-years-old this year, we’re looking back at some past on-farm research trials. Last month, we featured Vic Madsen discussing strip trials he and several other Practical Farmers conducted that investigated N fertilizer rates for corn. Below, we review some trials from the early 1990s that took a look at applying biological and alternative amendments for corn and soybean production. Though he didn’t participate himself, Vic remembered these trials and suggested I reach out to one of the cooperators who did participate. So I gave Dave Lubben a call. Dave and his wife, Lisa, farm near Monticello in Jones County. In 2013, they were awarded as Master Researchers for their efforts over the years in conducting over 20 on-farm research trials and hosting more than 5 field days.
In 2014, Iowa Learning Farms and Practical Farmers began a joint research effort to investigate the use of a highboy seeder to seed cover crops into standing corn and soybeans. The objective was to determine the effects of planting technique on the successful establishment of sole species and mixed species cover crops. Cover crop planting technique considered two factors: 1) seeding date (into standing crops vs. post-harvest) and 2) method (Hagie Highboy vs. grain drill).
The results are highlighted in a new report: Seeding Technique and Date Effect on Cover Crop Establishment. More details on the project are provided below.