Farmers need total systems approach

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Master farmers 2017
The Ohio Certified Crop Adviser award went to Tim Berning, of Minster (center). He was flanked by Master Farmer winners Mark Guess (left) and Alan Thompson.

ADA, Ohio — Getting the most out of no-till is a total systems approach. You have to pay attention to everything, including the soil condition, planter, cover crops and residue management.

“Every step you do is going to affect future steps,” said Paul Jasa, a research engineer with the University of Nebraska Extension, during his keynote speech at the annual Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference March 7.

Paul Jasa
Paul Jasa, University of Nebraska Extension

Jasa said one of the biggest keys to no-till is residue management. He recommends leaving as much of it in place as possible, but at the same time, configuring your planter to do an efficient job of cutting through, and placing the seed with good seed-to-soil contact.

Leaving the residue standing helps keep the soil covered, which preserves moisture and also helps hold snow in place, so when it melts, it returns more moisture to the soil. The residue also helps retain nutrients, and helps regulate soil temperature during temperature extremes.

Points to consider

Jasa said good no-till planting includes a planter that can cut through and handle the residue, one that penetrates evenly to the desired depth, establishes seed-to-soil contact, and closes the seed row after planting.

He said farmers need to go over their planter long before they’re ready to use it, making sure it’s weighted properly and that everything is doing what it’s supposed to.

Planters may need to be configured differently for different soils, and different parts of the country. He reminded farmers that when they read or hear about how one guy does things, to always consider the location and any differences between that farm and your own.

Jasa said it’s also important to avoid entering no-till fields when the soil is wet, because compaction is a guarantee. And, it’s important to use no-till on a continuous basis.

“To get the full benefits of no-till, you’ve got to be continuous no-till,” he said.

Jasa said continuous no-till helps break up residue on its own, including root balls, and other pieces of crop residue.

Reducing insecticides

In the afternoon, former U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist Jonathan Lundgren gave a spirited talk about the importance of reducing insecticide use, especially neonicotinoids, which he said are killing bees and other beneficial insects.

“We are currently living through one of the worst mass extinction events that planet Earth has ever experienced,” he said. “We are losing species at a rate that surpasses the dinosaur extinction.”

Jonathan Lundgren
Jonathan Lundgren

Lundgren left USDA’s Agricultural Research Service about a year ago, telling the Washington Post that USDA was censoring his research. He and his family now operate a South Dakota farm and research station with a focus on regenerative agriculture, known as Blue Dasher Farm.

Symptom of problem

Lundgren said he understands the issue of insects, but said they’re actually a sign of a bigger problem. He tries to get farmers to take a whole-systems approach, working with nature and beneficial insects instead of turning to chemicals.

“If you have a pest problem in your field, that is your field telling you that something is out of whack,” he said. “Why are we buying another jug to replace the last jug that stopped working?”

Lundgren said that crop and animal life is connected in a way that, when you eliminate one species, it affects all of the others, including the beneficial insects.

He encouraged farmers to be more diverse, and to also consider incorporating some livestock onto their farms. The diversity adds to the soil health, and it also helps protect farmers, “so that when crop prices go up and down, you’re not left high and dry.”

Awards presented

Master Farmer awards were presented to Mark Guess, a grain farmer from Greene County, and Alan Thompson, a grain farmer from Springfield.

Guess and his family run Groco Family Farms, an 8,600-acre operation. Guess said he got his education through the college of hard knocks, but not because he wasn’t offered a chance.

“When I graduated (high school) in 1954, my Dad said to me, ‘I’ll either send you to college or I’ll buy you a new tractor. And guess what? I didn’t get to college,” said Guess, noting he got a new Farmall H with a plow and cultivator.

The Master Farmer awards recognize the lifetime achievements of Ohio farmers, in the areas of farm management, innovation, conservation and leadership.

A third award, the Ohio Certified Crop Adviser of the Year, went to Tim Berning, of Minster.

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