Published Aug 28, 2018

Field day will explore benefits of adding cover crops, small grains and livestock to row-crop farm – Sept. 10, near Stanton

By Tamsyn Jones

Mark and Melanie Peterson 485x727

For Release: August 28, 2018


Mark Peterson | Bent Gate Farm | (712) 370-4004 | |

Tamsyn Jones | Outreach & Publications Coordinator | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 |

STANTON, Iowa — For Mark and Melanie Peterson, soil health is top of mind when it comes to their farming decisions. The Petersons have been using cover crops for 10 years, and they are also working to add a small-grains crop to their rotation – a combination that offers even greater soil health and cost-saving benefits. Until recently, however, there was one key soil health component missing: livestock.

Mark and Melanie farm about 500 acres of corn and soybeans at Bent Gate Farm near Stanton. While they used to have livestock, they got out of it some years ago to focus on their row crop operation. The move made sense for them at the time – but they also knew they were losing an important source of soil fertility.

Three years ago, Mark and Melanie found a way to bring livestock back to the farm: They partnered with a cattle producer to start doing contract grazing on their cover crops. The practice adds more nutrients back to the soil and reduces their need for purchased inputs while providing a cost-effective feed source for the cattle.

“I wanted to do cattle because that is a huge component of soil health,” Mark says. “With no next generation of our family currently actively involved in our farming operation, at our age, we’re not willing to get back into livestock. Melanie and I both know we need cattle on our farm, but someone else is going to own them for now.”

Mark and Melanie will share their experience integrating cover crops, small grains and cattle at a field day they are hosting on Monday, Sept. 10, from 2:30-5:30 p.m., on their farm near Stanton (2311 N. Ave., just outside of town on the west side).

The event – “Cover Crops + Small Grains = A Perfect Pair for Soil Health and Water Quality” – is being held in partnership with Practical Farmers of Iowa and Iowa Soybean Association. There is no cost to attend, and dinner will be provided by the Mills-Montgomery County Cattlemen’s Association. The field day is sponsored by Grain Millers, Iowa Farmers Union and Pipeline Foods.

Guests will learn about the possibilities of adding a small-grains crop their rotation, which allows a wider use of cover crops and can cut down on needed inputs for the next corn crop. The Petersons will discuss planting cover crops after small grains; no-tilling soybeans into living cereal rye; how they integrated grazing with cover crops; cattle nutrition; and nitrogen application timing.

Theo Gunther, with Iowa Soybean Association, will share water quality data on cover crops and small grains, and the group will have a chance to sample nitrate concentrations coming out of tile lines from the small-grains field.

“Hopefully, attendees will learn a little more about how soil health and water quality can be integrated into their farming operations profitably,” Mark says.

Directions from Stanton: Take Frankfort Street / County Road H42 west out of town. This turns into 225th Street and curves south through an underpass; the farm is 0.6 mile farther.

Practical Farmers’ 2018 field days are supported by several sustaining and major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Applegate Natural & Organic Meats; Blue River Organic Seed; Cascadian Farms; Center for Rural Affairs; Farm Credit Services of America; Gandy Cover Crop Seeders; Grain Millers, Inc.; Green Cover Seed; Green Thumb Commodities; Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance; Iowa Beef Center; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy; Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE); ISU Extension and Outreach; La Crosse Forage and Turf Seed; MOSA Organic Certification; Natural Resources Defense Council; Organic Valley / Organic Prairie; PepsiCo; Pipeline Foods; Premier 1 Supplies; Sunrise Foods International; The DeLong Company; The Fertrell Company; The Scoular Company; Unilever; University of Iowa College of Public Health (I-CASH); USDA: Natural Resources Conservation Service; Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture; and Welter Seed & Honey Co.


Practical Farmers of Iowa works to equip farmers to build resilient farms and communities. Our values include: welcoming everyone; farmers leading the exchange of experience and knowledge; curiosity, creativity, collaboration and community; resilient farms now and for future generations; and stewardship of land and resources. To learn more, visit