Cover crops are relatively new to the area, so Ausberger now is focused on trying to learn what species work best, and how to manage them. “We would like to coordinate manure and compost applications over the top of cover crops to reduce nutrient loss from the manure, and to keep the soil microbes and earthworms happy and working year-round in the soil,” he says.

He has strip trials underway in cooperation with the Iowa Soybean Association’s On-Farm Network to find some of those answers. He seeded cereal rye by airplane over soybeans the first week of September. Now, in a set of side-by-side strip trials, Ausberger is comparing turkey compost to poultry litter and a control strip.

“We have been using poultry litter for about 20 years, so it will be interesting to see how crops respond to the different nutrients,” he says. “The cover crops provide additional organic matter, and the root mat helps to prevent wind and water erosion while building soil structure. Once the cover crops are terminated, they should feed the subsequent crop as the nutrients from the cover crops are mineralized.”

Ausberger likes the idea of investing in on-farm research. “My philosophy is that quantifying practices that I do with my own equipment on my own land will produce more valuable results for me than those produced by outside groups.”

He found that cover crops allowed him to get back into the fields more quickly during 2013’s wet spring. “The planter actually rode on top of the ground better, and didn’t mud up as much as the fields that did not have cover crops,” he observes. “That was a nice, and unexpected, side benefit to cover crops.”

Ausberger is not surprised at the interaction between managing soil and managing water. “We learned a long time ago that good soil management complements good water management,” he says. “We own tiling equipment and do a lot of our own drainage work. We have noticed, with the advent of yield monitors, the yield boost that we get from employing internal drainage in the fields. That fits in well with our no-till philosophy.”

Good drainage systems and water control structures allow rainfall to infiltrate on his rolling fields, Ausberger says, thus reducing the potential for erosion. “We continue to install tile where it is needed,” he adds. “We’re also working with neighbors on a larger scale drainage project. It would eliminate an open drainage ditch that delivers water directly to the creek. A large water-retention structure would not only reduce soil erosion, but allow for denitrification to improve water quality before it enters the creek.”