There were more than snow flurries sprinkling the Midwest over the past few weeks. In Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana, the Soil Health Partnership was busy holding field days.
In Shelby, Nebraska, SHP demonstration farmer Greg Whitmore told farmers that he approaches soil health by asking himself, “What do I want to happen in specific field? Farmers should consider both the economics and environmental benefits of each soil management practice in their crop plan. One of the unique elements of this program is its emphasis on farmer-to-farmer gatherings that give us an opportunity to discuss what works and what doesn’t, what we can change and the time frame for changes.”
Whitmore also noted that water quantity looms high on a farmer’s list of challenges in Nebraska.
“The soil samples I take help me identify what soil management practices contribute to water efficiency in each of the fields where I want to make a change. After participating in this program, I expect to be better able to assess the interplay of yield with compaction and water filtration, organic matter, the nutrient cycle, and other chemical, physical and biological attributes.”
At the Forrest, Illinois field day, Mike Trainor talked about his past experience with cover crops and what he hopes to gain by participating in the Soil Health Partnership.
“What is attractive about this program is the attention it places on the economic benefits of using cover crops,” said Trainor.
Dr. Laura Gentry, visiting research assistant professor at the University of Illinois generated farmer interest at the Forrest, Illinois field day when she discussed her research on the local yield effect of stover removal in continuous corn. Depending on market conditions in this part of the Corn Belt, continuous corn can represents anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the corn planted.
Mark Bramstedt, a soil scientist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service Illinois, explained that drainage and ponding problems in the local clay soils may actually be compaction and soil pore space issues. As such, these issues could be reduced through tillage practices that increase organic matter rather than through tiling.
Although Tim Seifert and Dave Moose both use soil health management practices on their farms in Auburn, Illinois, they have very different approaches towards implementation.
“Dave and I like to challenge each other on this,” said Seifert. “We both struggle with the application of cover crops, but we can deal with the challenges. What we fret about are the results. I’ve been adopting conservation practices for a long time, but cover crops require an intense management system. It’s a tool that depends a lot on mother nature.”
While Seifert prefers to take an incremental approach to soil health practices, Moose implements on a broader scale.
“The bottom line is that I want to keep my soil out of Lake Springfield and the Mississippi River,” said Moose. “Tim is the tester; I jump in. I’m fortunate that I own the family farm. I guess I can take a few more risks.”
Leon Corzine, another SHP demonstration farmer, invited his neighbors in Assumption, Illinois to hear how soil health benefits farmers’ operations.
“My son Craig now farms with me. Leaving the farm to him in better shape than I got it is important to me,” said Corzine. “I’m interested in growing cover crops but, like other farmers, I’m not quite sure what will work best. Working with Soil Health Partnership is a way for me to learn more about what I can do.”
“The field is a classroom. The question is, ‘Are you taking notes?'” said Randy McElroy, a Monsanto technology development representative from Clay County. “Working with cover crops is long term. Farmers need to develop an 18-month to two-year plan to incorporate cover crops into their operation that has flexibility in its implementation because things will change from growing season to growing season.”
In Darlington, Indiana, discussions about the Soil Health Partnership’s grounding in scientific results dominated farmer interest. Hosts Brent Bible and Brandon Mosely talked about their experiences with managing cover crops and the importance of farmers gathering to exchange information.
“I haven’t been using cover crops long enough to understand how best to utilize this tool on my farm,” said Bible. “By getting together with technical experts and other farmers and asking questions about new practices, I may just discover the very thing I want to know.”
Although each field day concentrated on the same subjects, it was clear that there are a number of ways to implement soil health management practices. This gives testament to the diverse approach the partnership takes in defining soil health.
The mission of the Soil Health Partnership is to catalyze enhanced agricultural sustainability and productivity by demonstrating and communicating the economic and environmental benefits of improved soil health. For more information, visit soilhealthpartnership.org org or email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.