What cost are you willing to pay for higher yields?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean how much money are you willing to spend. I mean at what cost… or maybe we should say, “what are you willing to compromise?”
Your soil? Your land’s sustainability? Your health?
The truth is whether we view it this way or not, a lot of modern-day farming practices are compromising many of these and more to increase bottom lines. And the saddest thing? A lot of times that bottom line isn’t even budging.
This was the case for Johnny Hunter of Essex, Missouri after multiple years of poor yields were all he had to show despite his tireless efforts.
A third-generation farmer, Hunter’s system was predicated on the usual conventional farming techniques – heavy tillage, gallons of herbicide spray and high fertilizer rates. In 2012, when a prolonged drought hit and nearly crippled his operation, he turned to the only method a farmer of his mindset would – a 20′ disk ripper to loosen up the soil and increase irrigation. Unfortunately, for his yields and his soil’s health, the results were less than he had hoped for.
The Lightbulb Goes on
A fortuitous chain of events would lead Hunter straight to what he would later term, “A treasure trove” of information, and one freely available to all internet users – YouTube. Specifically, YouTube cover crop videos.
After getting several videos under his belt, Hunter started to consider a change in mindset. As motivated as ever, he managed to identify a common link most of these free cover crop videos shared – NRCS agronomist Ray Archuleta. One quick phone call to Ray and it was off to the races.
“Johnny was trying to find a better way to survive,” Archuleta would later say. “Cover Crops are merely another tool, not the goal. The goal is simple: Mimic nature and increase soil function to cut back on input dependency. Understanding what’s going on in the soil system and how to use cover crops is the key.”
Hunter eagerly put in the necessary legwork of changing his conventional operation towards a more nature-friendly version of farming. This change would eventually not only solve his irrigation problem, but promote his soil health and (counter to what herbicide salesmen may want you to think) enhance weed control. With cover crops in place to retain moisture, increase fertilizer and soil nutrient recycling, it didn’t take long for Hunter to see that he was onto something… or for his neighbors to start taking notice.
Nearby producer Peter Rost had encountered several similar issues brought on by the 2012 drought. After observing the benefits in soil health to his neighbor’s fields, he implemented a similar system that would wean his crops off of things like fertilizer and herbicides, understanding that farming is “not a sprint.” Two years later, Rost’s cover-crop campaign would expand to 50% of his 3,500 acres with plans to see nearly 100% implementation for the following year.
A Tool or a Savior
The benefits that both of these Missouri farmers attest to is hard to ignore – even for the most staunch conventional farmer. But what’s important to keep in mind is that practices like cover crops and no-till are JUST tools. According to Ray Archuleta, they in and of themselves won’t do much for your crops if you don’t adopt a mindset founded on the principles of soil health, all of which are predicated on mimicking nature.
Now we know that both of these examples come from Missouri. And Ray Archuleta, though a national figure, is based out of North Carolina, only recently having joined our two farming pioneers in the Show Me State. But still, their success and their voices carry wisdom and truth for all farmers.
So what are the facts? Can decreasing inputs actually increase yields? If Hunter and Rost’s testimonials are any indication, the answer appears to be “yes”, but the benefits go well beyond the bottom line.
“I don’t care if you’re in Michigan, Mississippi or Missouri” Hunter says. “Tillage is detrimental to soil health. In a perfect world, my ground would be in never till. That’s the ideology I chase, but I also understand the nature of the beast.”
“Educate yourself away from fear by looking at a ton of available resources. Field days, soil health alliances, and NRCS professionals are waiting. It may sound silly at first, but YouTube is a treasure trove.”
Join the Revolution,
SOURCE: Chris Bennett/agweb.com: http://www.agweb.com/top-producer/article/killing-the-input-beast-naa-chris-bennett/