Modern ag, increased productivity, wildlife can coexist
Ted Frank says his family’s operation eased into the use of environmental tillage systems. He farms in partnership with his wife, Kim; son Tom; brother Ed; and sister-in-law Cindy, as well as a full-time employee. The 1,000-acre operation in Mower County, Minn., is a farrow-to-finish hog enterprise that produces about 7,000 market hogs annually.
“We rented an eight-row SoilWarrior in 2011 and again in 2012, to learn about and evaluate the system,” Frank recalls. “We purchased our own machine in the fall of 2012.”
Their goals for reducing soil erosion and increasing productivity through better nutrient placement are the primary reasons they became interested in strip till. Use of the SoilWarrior has just been one step in their route to more sustainable farming practices.
“Another change we have made is to allow our manure application to work with our strip till system by purchasing a vertical tillage injection bar for our manure tank, and adding a flow meter, monitor system and auto steer,” he says. “The new equipment allows us to have control over manure rates and apply manure with minimal soil disturbance.”
The Frank family isn’t the only ones turning to environmental tillage systems. Benjamin Pederson farms about 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans with his father, Gary.
“Nearly 10 years ago, a seed was planted in my brain that we could do things better than how we were doing them,” Pederson relates. “Typical for our area, we were either disk-ripping cornstalks or moldboard plowing them. It was common for us to plow the acres that were to be corn-on-corn and rip the acres that were to be soybeans the following year.”
In both cases, they would run a stalk chopper over every corn acre to help with residue decomposition. Even on soybean stubble, they would perform some sort of light tillage in the fall. In the spring this was followed by one, or even two, field cultivator passes prior to planting.
“Fields and road ditches were black all winter. It was in examining the soil after all that tillage that I began to search for a better way. Even though there was three inches of loose soil making a good seed bed over most of the surface, the wheel tracks were always cloddy and hard, while over the rest of the implement width, there was a hard, smear layer at field cultivator sweep depth,” he recalls.
Then, there was the erosion. Almost every year, utilizing even more tillage, they would have to smooth out areas were water had taken the loose, unanchored soil and cut ravines and gullies on the rolling terrain.