Tips for conserving the soil while boosting profits at CTC

The currently grim corn and soybean economic situation, paired with increasing environmental scrutiny of farms, is putting many farms in a tight spot for maintaining profitability. The popular Conservation Tillage Conference in Ada kicked off today with the goal of providing tips for farms to bolster profitability while improving the land and water for the future.

“There’s a preponderance of evidence that shows we’re in a time of extreme weather and every scientist that looks at this says we’re going to be here awhile,” said Barry Fisher, USDA-NRCS soil scientist, keynote speaker at Wednesday morning’s general session.

Barry Fisher, soil scientist for USDA-NRCS, was the keynote speaker at the CTC opening session on Wednesday.
Barry Fisher, soil scientist for USDA-NRCS, was the keynote speaker at the CTC opening session on Wednesday.

Fisher defined soil health as the capacity of a soil to function as a vital, living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans, and noted it as a way to challenge the change in weather situations down the road. Fisher focused on the importance of thinking of soil as a living thing outlining four major principles for soil health:

  • Minimize disturbance
  • Maximize soil cover
  • Maximize biodiversity
  • Provide continuous living roots

“You put all these things together and that’s how you’re going to begin maximizing soil health,” Fisher said. “Soil health is not a thing you order on amazon.com.

“It’s a journey and a state of mind where you’re continually adapting your management.”

Fisher continued to stress the importance of improving aggregate stability. A major point that affects many other areas, he said. He highlighted several steps in the downward spiral of soil degradation:

  • Intensive tillage, insufficient added residues, low diversity, no surface cover results in soil organic matter decreases, erosion, and compacted subsoil
  • Aggregates break down
  • Surface becomes compacted, crust forms
  • Infiltration decreases, erosion increases, yield consistency declines
  • More ponding and persistent wetness, but less water storage
The 2016 CTC hosted an impressive crowd.
The 2016 CTC hosted an impressive crowd.

With regard to the eventual downward results, “If we take it far enough, hunger and starving sets in,” Fisher said.

“We led farmers to believe that farmers with flat soil didn’t have erosion loss,” he said. “What is your tolerable soil loss? It better be zero.

“When in doubt, we tend to plow. I would like to suggest that at some point we change our mindset and change to mimicking what Mother Nature would do. When in doubt, plant. You’re going to fix more of these situations with biological systems than anything you can do management wise.”

Fisher identified the key aspects of putting a conservation management package together incorporating multiple areas of soil improvement. They include quality no-till, adapted nutrient management, prescribed cover crops (to best compliment the previous two points), diverse crop rotation, new technology and integrated weed and pest management.

“This is not your father’s no-till system that we’re talking about,” he said. “When we put this sort of a system together, the value of the whole should far exceed the sum of its parts.

Fisher also said farmers need to think of soil health as economic development. He highlighted the amount of nutrients just 1% of organic matter contains. Each 1% contains 10,000 pounds of C, 1,000 pounds of N, 100 pounds of P, and 100 pounds of S. He noted that as soil health regenerates, farmers will see increases in crop yield and a decrease in risk along the way.

Matt VanTillburg of Mercer County was named the Ohio CCA of the Year. Ohio CCA Chair Cecilia Lokai-Minnich presented the award.
Matt VanTillburg of Mercer County was named the Ohio CCA of the Year. Ohio CCA Chair Cecilia Lokai-Minnich presented the award.

Also at the opening session, Matt VanTillburg of Mercer County was recognized as the Ohio Certified Crop Advisor of the Year. VanTillburg is heavily involved in community organizations, multiple boards, and continued investment in the industry.

As farmers prepare for spring planting, much of their planning will focus on where and how to cut costs for 2016 without cutting net income, said Randall Reeder, a retired Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer and an organizer of the annual Conservation Tillage Conference offered today and tomorrow by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

“Many growers are tightening their belts because of tight budgets, low prices and not much money in the bank,” he said. “For a few years grain farmers were making good money. But in 2015 grain prices fell sharply, with 2016 prices looking to stay low.”

CTC offers numerous presentations designed to help growers learn where to tighten and where to cut back while ensuring they have healthy soils, healthy water, and, hopefully, a healthy bank account, Reeder said.

The program includes a “Corn University” and “Soybean School” that will be offered during the annual conference, he said.

Topics to be discussed during the Corn University today include:

  • Corn Yield Forecasting.
  • New Molecular Methods For Insect Control.
  • Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium Management Highlights for Corn.
  • Taking A Second Look At Hybrid Performance and Technology.
  • Crop-Effective and Environment-Responsible Nutrient Placement in Strip-Till and No-Till Corn.

Topics to be discussed during the Soybean School tomorrow include:

  • Ohio Soybean Limitation Survey Results
  • Managing Weeds in Soybeans
  • Fertility Management
  • Managing Soybean Insects
  • The Future of Soybean Breeding
  • Top 10 ways to improve yield, without breaking the bank.

The Corn University and Soybean School are just two of a total of eight concurrent sessions during the conference. More than 900 participants are expected to attend the event, organized by OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, with assistance from USDA and SWCDs.

The conference offers the latest research, insight, tips and techniques on precision fertility, cover crops and manure, water management, technology and equipment, nutrient management, and advanced cover crops. It features some 60 presenters, including 25 CFAES researchers and Extension educators, as well as farmers and industry representatives.

Certified Crop Adviser continuing education credits are available, with an emphasis on soil and water and nutrient management hours.

Topics presented during the two cover crop sessions include:

  • Understanding the Legal Aspects of Manure Application.
  • On-farm Experiences with Cover Crops and Manure.
  • Enhancing Soil Mycorrhizal Fungus to retain nutrients.
  • Improving Soil Carbon for Healthier Soils.
  • Sustainable Agriculture programs (from Campbell’s Soup Co.).

The CTC conference is at the McIntosh Center of Ohio Northern University in Ada. The full schedule and registration information can be found at ctc.osu.edu. Walk-in registration is $80 for one day. Other conference sponsors include: Ohio Corn Marketing Program, Ohio Soybean Council, Farm Science Review, John Deere, Ag Credit, Seed Consultants, and the Ohio No-Till Council.

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