Podcast by Soil Health Partnership - SoilSmart
Committing to no-till farming: “Trying doesn’t get the job done.”
By the time his corn crop would normally be chest-high, Brian Roemke’s farm was less than 10 percent planted. That’s the most-repeated story across the Corn Belt for the 2019 planting season, but for Roemke, it’s an opportunity. “When you’re given lemons, you make lemonade,” he said.
Roemke recalls the 2015 planting season when he and his family had 1,500 prevented-plant acres. “That gave us the opportunity to really get into cover crops,” said Roemke. It was the year after they had first tried them.
An agronomist has been tracking improvements in Roemke’s soils for the last 18 seasons. Since 2014, when they began earnest use of cover crops, something significant showed up their soil profile: organic matter was increasing by one-tenth of a percent per year. “Over a decade we can gain a full percentage point of organic matter,” he said. “That’s living soil.”
No-till farming has been a regular part of the Roemke farm since about 2000 when they made a commitment to the practice. “We had toyed with the idea for many years prior,” confessed Roemke. “That’s where we learned trying just doesn’t get the job done.”
McDonald’s sees value in Soil Health Partnership sustainability work
McDonald’s customers increasingly expect the restaurant chain to share their values. “We have a responsibility in society,” says Townsend Bailey, McDonald’s sustainability director, adding that McDonald’s is committed to using its scale for good. In doing that, says Townsend, they have something in common with the Soil Health Partnership.
“The Soil Health Partnership is doing a great job of bringing together people in collaboration,” says Bailey, “basing their work in real data as well and figuring out, ‘how do we support the people that are taking care of that soil.’”
Soil Health Partnership, Pheasants Forever goals mesh
Chad Bloom with Pheasants Forever believes in the mission of the Soil Health Partnership.
“Pheasants Forever is an implementer,” explains Bloom, “and when all this science comes out, we can partner with the farmer to deliver habitat as a solution to [Soil Health Partnership] goals.”
Pheasants Forever tries to deliver conservation goals as outlined by the farmer, according to Bloom, who says the organization is capitalizing on relationships with entities such as USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“We don’t have an agenda out there,” said Bloom, “it’s simply taking the goals that these farmers have, applying a solution to them and putting it on the ground for their benefit.”
Policies, commitment keep soil health a focus
“The biggest asset a grower has is the land that he farms,” says Nathan Fields, vice president of production and sustainability at the National Corn Growers Association.
From the Farm Bill Conservation Title to collaborative efforts among diverse groups and individuals, Fields supports anything that results in improved soil health.
“Making sure that we’re taking care of that resource in the context of conservation measures has been something that growers have been engaged in for a long time,” he says, adding that commitment to soil health needs to continue.
“Now,” he says, “we’re really beginning to understand a lot more of what those long-term benefits are.”
Iowa farm couple are SHP Exceptional Educators
John and Joan Maxwell of Cinnamon Ridge Farm are the Soil Health Partnership Exceptional Educator Award winners. Through tours of their farm, at Donahue, Iowa, the Maxwells tell the agriculture story to everyone from local kindergarten students to international visitors. Since the first tour they conducted, hosting their daughter’s pre-school class, they’ve shared how a successful dairy and row crop farm can sustainably feed the growing population while caring for the land.
“Any way we can connect with food and agriculture,” said John Maxwell, “we’re trying to do it.”
Advocates for the Soil Health Partnership, the Maxwells have been featured in print, television and radio news stories.
SHP award winner calls cover crops ‘a life saver’ for grazing
Brian Martin advocates for the use of cover crops for improving soil health. The Centralia, Missouri, corn, soybean, small grain and cattle producer talks about the challenges of chemical control and the effects of herbicide carryover on cover crops. Martin, the Data Dominator winner at the Soil Health Summit, uses different approaches to cover crops depending on whether they’re incorporated in row crops to prevent erosion, or whether they’re planted to supplement cattle grazing.
“It was a life saver,” said Martin, referring to how cover crops helped during a dry summer. “We actually wet-wrapped a lot of cereal rye and then followed that up with another forage type. It can provide a year-round grazing solution when there’s no other options.”