No-Till Notes "Excellent Opportunity, part 2"

 

Last week I told you about my experience in talking to students at Chadron State College. I had a great time visiting with these students and hopefully our paths will cross again. I also had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Ron Bolze, the instructor at Chadron State who had invited me to talk to his students about soil health.

​I was pretty nervous about getting up in front of college students and trying to enlighten a college classroom. I really didn’t feel qualified to speak to students about soil health since I really hadn’t had much experience on my farm with improving soil health. We’ve taken steps to improving soil health by moving our farm to a no till crop production system but we haven’t really focused on soil health. ​I really hope our focus will move to improving the soil we work with. I really think this is going to involve the introduction of diverse forages and cattle for grazing into our operation.

​I’ve known about this concept for several years of using cattle and diverse forages to improve soil health. As I mentioned last week I have known Gabe Brown for several years and heard his message numerous times, but I haven’t adopted his philosophies into my own operation, which I feel has been a mistake.


​Dr. Bolze really got me thinking about soil health again when he told me about his experiences while visiting Gabe’s operation near Bismark, North Dakota.  Dr. Bolzewas standing in a dry land corn field of Gabe’s that yielded 159 bushels per acre in a 15 inch precipitation area just like ours here at home.

The amazing part of this corn field was that Gabe had applied no commercial fertilizer to this field. Another amazing part of this corn field was the fact that there was also a waist high vetch crop growing in this corn field that Gabe would use to graze cattle on after he combined the corn. This corn field is a lot more profitable than my 200 bushel irrigated corn field here at home.

The key to Gabe’s unbelievably profitable operation is his focus on soil health. Gabe and other producers in Burleigh County, North Dakota have dedicated their operations to improving the health of their soil. They have done this by reintroducing cattle into their farming operations by raising diverse forages and grazing them with the cattle.

I remember visiting with Gabe a few years ago when winter wheat prices reached record highs. I was at a meeting with Gabe and I asked him if he wished he had produced more winter wheat that year. He told me he couldn’t afford to raise $10.00 per bushel wheat, it would cost him money. That statement has really stuck with me.


When Dr. Bolze asked me to speak to his students and told me about his visit to Gabe’s farm I had to ask myself why I haven’t adopted Gabe’s production practices and focused on soil health on our own operation. It really comes down to the basic reason’s all producers fear change.

Change requires altering your operation and venturing into challenges you aren’t sure of handling. We haven’t had cattle in our operation for over a generation. Our lack of knowledge in handling livestock has us apprehensive in making this change.

Change is always hard. We need to do our homework and decide if this change will make our operation more profitable. Can we get totally committed to making this change much like we did with no till crop production 20 years ago? Maybe change is harder as you age?

The force that is driving me to make this change is I want to see how healthy our soils can become. I really want to see the full potential in the soil we work with. What are the possibilities? Gabe has discovered that his soil in North Dakota has more potential than anyone ever dreamed of if the health of that soil becomes the focus of your operation. I’d like to do the same on our farm.

 

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