Extreme weather finds even longtime no-tillers fighting washouts and erosion. Bill and Babetta Lucke of Persia, Iowa, 12-year no-till veterans, have a stellar soil-saving system, including terraced slopes and miles of grass waterways. “These things help a lot,” Bill says, but with torrential rains and the 2012 drought, “we still lose some soil.” Buffeted by weather extremes like so many Corn Belt farms, their 1,000 acres lie in the fertile loess hills of southwest Iowa.
Year after year, Donnelly, Minn., farmer Dave Liebl would close the gully that formed in one of his fields, only to have it reopen. “I’d dig it, and it would look smooth. Then after a hard rain, there’d be another gully in the same place.” The ditch below the field had silt several feet deep.
A young farmer from eastern Nebraska is pushing irrigation management to a new level of precision. Nick Emanuel, founder and president of CropMetrics, is a leader in variable rate irrigation management. The innovations he developed on his farm are helping growers match water application rates to soil type, conserving water and reducing yield variability. “He’s a small-town Nebraska boy who is making a global impact on water management,” says Dave Varner, a University of Nebraska Extension scientist in southeast Nebraska.
Tim Schmeeckle is learning to grow corn with less water. Precision-irrigation management is helping him and other farmers apply the right amount of water on every part of the field. Variable-rate irrigation (VRI) adjusts water application depth for differences in soil water-holding capacity, topography and yield potential.
Cash rent went on the auction block in several areas around the Midwest last fall and winter. In Iowa, 3,300 acres of cropland brought rent bids ranging from $325/acre to $520/acre, stunning some market watchers. In southern Minnesota, several cash rent auctions last fall brought over $400/acre. In eastern South Dakota, bids at rent auctions in September and October reached $300/acre or more.
One reason glyphosate-resistant weeds are multiplying is lack of early detection. Because glyphosate has been so effective, busy farmers often skimp on scouting after spraying, says Jeff Stachler, Extension weed scientist at North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota. As a consequence, “we’re not detecting weed changes from year to year.”
Directing tile water through a grass buffer can significantly improve drainage water quality. This new conservation drainage practice, called a “saturated buffer,” removes nitrates from subsurface drainage water at low cost – without affecting farm field drainage.
Leasing your farmland for wind power offers another source of income — one that lets you continue farming the land. But wind agreements create complex legal and financial issues, and affect your property rights far into the future, says Jennifer Jambor-Delgado, a staff attorney at Minnesota-based Farmers’ Legal Action Group.
Two genes that help soybeans fend off aphids worked well in 2011, both as single and stacked traits. That’s according to a six-state study of soybeans with aphid resistance genes, known as Rag1 and Rag2. Individually, the genes slowed aphid growth significantly, says Iowa State University entomologist Matt O’Neal, who led the research.
On a road trip last September through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, Jeff Gunsolus was struck by all the volunteer corn sticking up out of ripening soybean fields. “It seems that people aren’t valuing this as a weed-management issue," says the Minnesota Extension weed scientist. Many growers are not killing it soon enough as volunteer corn is very competitive with soybeans, he says.
Minnesota farmer Gene Stengel and his sons Kevin and Rob will plant a 20% insect refuge this spring, as usual. Although “refuge-in-the-bag” blends of Bt and non-Bt seeds are proving popular with farmers – and could predominate in coming years – many growers will still plant structured non-Bt refuges in 2012.
Come end of June, Minnesota grower Norm Giese will be planting soybeans again, just like he has done for the last 13 years, successfully. The Appleton, MN, farmer and his son and son-in-law grow 5,000 acres of corn, soybeans and dry edible beans. They also grow 350 acres of fresh peas for a local processor.
This spring, a muddy lake on the Mississippi River sparked a flurry of controversy about agricultural drainage. Lake Pepin, on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, is filling up with silt. Most of the sediment is carried into the lake by the Minnesota River, a turbid prairie river that meanders through some of the most productive – and heavily tiled – cropland in the world.