Conservation, Sustainability, Technology, Cover Crops: Matt's Thoughts






Soil Conservation





During my farming career I have always tried to do more with less.  Besides being expensive, I believe that intensive tillage is breaking down the structure of our soils and it is making soil erode faster.  Poor soil structure leads to more compaction and less water infiltration.   People say our rain events have become more extreme.  It always bugs me after a heavy rain event to drive around the countryside and see gullies cut in fields and then the next spring watch the farmer fill the gully back in with a piece of tillage equipment… only to have the exact same thing happen the next year!  Studies show we are losing our beautiful top soil at the rate of about 6% due to erosion from farming with conventional tillage.  Tack on to that what some farmers lose because of refusing to put a waterway in a gully and it adds up to more than 6%.  We believe with good conservation, good land stewardship, and cover crops, we can significantly minimize the risk of erosion.

On our farm we have cut tillage way back and our yields have not gone down because of it.  For our soybean program we do not cut any corn stalks.  We lightly smooth the field out with a vertical tillage machine.  One pass vertical tillage makes a nice seedbed for beans, leaves residue on top, and allows the soil to dry out better than no-till in the spring.  Imagine, no stalk cutting, no disk ripping, and no field cultivating!  This equals less fuel, machinery, and soil damage.  Our corn following soybeans program is a simple one pass strip till, then plant in the spring.

We have access to land moving equipment to build waterways.  Places in farms that always form gullies need to be shaped and seeded to grass, permanently!  We feel it is horrible conservation to continually till and crop areas that take huge erosion beatings during a storm.   On our farms we shape these areas to channel water and then seed them to water ways.  We plant through most of our waterways, and plant around the deeper ones.  We spray our herbicides around them.

During the last four years we have also been experimenting with cover crops on our farm.  We started out seeding rye with an airplane late August and have done yield experiments with oats, radishes, and clover.  We now have rye spread with some fertilizer broadcasted after the corn is harvested.  We then incorporate with our vertical till.  This is virtually the same as using a no till drill.  In the spring time we plant right into the cover crop without doing any extra tillage.  

Spring of 2016 we enrolled 360 acres of land we farm into the Iowa Soybean Association Nitrogen and Phosphorus Water Monitoring Program.  All 360 of these acres tile water drains into one outlet.  The data collected shows that we are in the low to average category for nutrients leaving our farm.  We believe this is the result of less tillage and better nutrient placement.