Soil Conservation Is A Marathon

Nathan Brause plants cover crop blends, with up to 17 species, to maximize soil health benefits. ( Clinton Griffiths )

America’s Conservation Ag Movement is a broad national effort to help farmers, ranchers and growers continue their journey to conserve our shared natural resources and promote sustainable food production.

To till or not to till? Many farmers grapple with this question as they evaluate their production practices.

Nathan Brause’s family answered that question years ago. He’s carried on a soil-conservation tradition from his grandfather and father, who used no-till and ridge-till long before either one was popular.

“I thought they were kind of crazy, but the further I go down this path, the more I realize what they were trying to do is conserve soil,” explains Brause, who farms near Sulphur Springs, Ohio.

Modern Methods

Today, Brause uses a multitude of modern conservation methods:

  • Converting unproductive ground into other uses.
  • Employing infield waterways to minimize runoff.
  • Using cover crops intensively.

To accomplish his conservation goals, Brause has a three-crop rotation. It starts with corn, followed by rye or barley. Then, soybeans are no-tilled and followed by wheat. Wheat is covered in a mix of cover crops ahead of corn, as the rotation starts over.

“So your ground is covered all the time, and at the same time, we’re only putting two-thirds of the farm in cover crops instead of planting 100% of it to cover crops just to grow a corn-soybean rotation and not have 100% success,” he says.

The Long View

While planting corn into a green cover crop is a challenge, Brause says it’s worth the trouble. “I could just about write you a check to cash in November because it’s going to be the best-yielding corn I’ve got.”

The Brause family has pulled acres out of grain production and planted them to grass buffers for quail habitat. Other low-yielding fields now feature hardwood trees.

“What’s the point of trying to farm soil that’s not going to be producing anything, when it could be producing something over a long time?” Brause points out.

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