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A Growing Revolution

September 28, 2017 by

I was on a second year of trying, unsuccessfully, to grow a profitable cash crop.  The neighbor offered to custom harvest the crop for me.  Getting to ride along in their combine was a fun experience but also allowed me to see my crop from a different angle and also begin to get to know the neighbor that farms a lot of ground in my area and noticeably farms it in a different way.  The net result of that relationship was me deciding to cash rent my crop ground to the neighbor’s and me focusing on the remaining acres of my farm solely devoted to the pheasant side of my business (which was a full time farming job in itself).  What a victory that next spring was when I got the cash rent check in March and did not have to stress about bringing a profitable crop to market that fall.  The real victory was in giving the neighbor farming rights to actually grow a profitable crop, they take better care of my asset (soil) than I could and I win with income from the land and no inputs.  Win-Win-Win.

Last year those same neighbor’s gave me a brief crop tour and any novice could tell the stark contrast in difference and those of the other farmers across the road or fence.  Weather had produced a very wet spring and very hot dry summer.

Fast forward to this year and I had a burning desire to do a more in depth crop tour with the neighbor and my good friend at South Dakota Corn Growers, Jim Ristau, Director of Sustainability.  The neighbor is Danny Wipf, Farm Boss for the Lakeview Hutterite Colony.  Initially it was going to be just us 3 to go around informally and see what we could see.  The day turned into something more than that.  Come the afternoon of the tour we had no less than 20 folks being shuttled around by one school bus and 4 trucks.  We had seedsman, bankers, crop insurance reps, agronomists and Coop Reps.  The tour began shortly after lunch and ended late that night after a steak dinner with the Colony’s famous lean breed beef.  Companies represented at the tour were, Pioneer, Cenex, Farm Credit Service and 1st Dakota Bank.  This year was a very, very hot dry spring and early summer to be followed by a wetter more moderate temp latter summer.

What you are about to learn about is a system that can mitigate a tremendous amount of risk in your cash cropping systems based on the climate we have across our whole state.  I have found no other system that not only preserves your earthly asset beneath your feet but can also greatly enhance it by turning dirt into soil.  This is not an organic system but it is not a GMO Roundup Ready Corn & Soybean system either.  It is the “best of” blend of all best practices.  This system can bring profit back to these crops prices and maybe even make room in the budget to bring some kids back to the farm to continue a legacy.

The real success story here is that me, a NOLO (non operating land owner), drafted a cash rent agreement that specified some things in it that at the time I did not realize how beneficial they would be for both myself and the new operator.  The key terms were a bean-winter wheat-cover crop-corn rotation in a no-till system.  This is not a deviation from how the Colony is farming the 9000 acres of crop ground they farm in the area.  To be specific they crop 3000 acres of beans, winter wheat and corn each with a cover crop following the winter wheat.  It was a 4 year agreement.

The Colony uses all the latest John Deere equipment in tractors, sprayers, air seeders and corn planters.  They recently added a Shelbourne Stripper Header  to bring tall stubble benefits to their harvested winter wheat fields ahead of cover crop planting.  They even make their own precision component’s for planters in a business they called ProStitchAg.  They have been long time no-tillers and Danny would call Dwayne Beck of Dakota Lakes Research Farm one of his farming mentors.

There is a wealth of application knowledge we learned that day but too much to list here.  The Colony typically enjoys crop yields of 175 bushel corn (T yield=85), 80 bushel wheat (T yield=50) and 60 bushel soybeans (T yield=40).  At least on corn this years Corn yield on my farm looks to be 200 bushels an acre on about 9.5” of rain.  Ears measure 18 rows X 40 kernel’s by 28,000 population. 

Here are a few tidbits that will turn your conventional system on its “Ear”.

  • ·       Always apply the above crop rotation best practices regardless of crop prices
  • ·       Corn is non-gmo, non-roundup ready, non BT and not treated with insecticide or fungicide
  • ·       Beans are Roundup ready to bring that herbicide mode into rotation
  • ·       Cover crops are Flax, Field Peas, Turnips and Radishes.  All broadleaves so a spray like Clethodim can be used to kill off volunteer winter wheat and other grasses.
  • ·       Goal is to have corn knee high by 4th of July (not waist high).
  • ·       In spring all beans are planted first and then corn.
  • ·       Their farms started out at 1% organic matter and are now in the 4.5-5.5% range.
  • ·       Ditch the plow because tillage destroys your healthy soil biology.  He says “Either have a combine or a disk, you won’t need both”.
  • Adopt a commitment to build HFS (High Functioning Soils).
  • ·       Always keep the ground covered and a live growing root in it as much as possible.  Carbon cycling is an overlooked soil building key (crop litter).
  • ·       Corn and Soybean, as a rotation, is not sustainable and diverse enough to truly combat disease and weeds.  The evidence continues to mount on a national level.

Another key factor of this rotation is that winter wheat has been proven to be 30% productive of nesting cover for pheasants.  CRP is normally 60% productive according to SD GFP.  This implies that if you have 3000 acres of WW in your rotation it is like having 1500 acres of CRP as far as pheasant nesting productivity goes.  That’s Huge for the South Dakota state bird!  The benefits go beyond that for many other conservation and wildlife issues and concerns as a result of the GMO Corn/Soybean system making its way through the state. Of which is a system not without its own flaws and downfalls with some of the rotational issues it is fighting like Palmer Amaranth resistence and the Dicamba drift issue.

Bottom line is this system has the promise to solve a huge number of problems we have in agriculture including the short term time horizon that exists with tenant-NOLO’s and cash rent agreements.  There is some behavioral change and education that needs to happen and even some incentivizing too.  Many good programs exist to marry with these practices easing the transition to this system like NRCS’s CSP (Conservation Security Program) which offers up to $40,000 per year per operator for working lands farming practices on new practices and also ones you are already doing.

On the education front I will do my part and list my 3 most favorite impactful reads I have come across in the last 15 years:

·       Growing a Revolution

·       Building Soils for Better Crops

·       Managing Cover Crops Profitably

Article Update 10/29/2017 - I rode in the combine when the Colony harvested my fields and one made 205 bushels/acres average dry weight and the other 188.  The 205 field was their best performing field to date.  Pretty impressive in a year when most of the state was in some level of drought status according to the Drought Monitor.

UGUIDE South Dakota Pheasant Hunting specializes in naturally produced fair chase pheasant hunting in the great state of South Dakota.

Posted in: News, Pheasant Outlook, Conservation, Agriculture

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