Another remarkable aspect of the Legan family farm is the fact that it was built from scratch. “We are first-generation farmers,” Mark points out. “Neither of us grew up on a farm. I ended up studying animal science at Purdue University and then spent seven years with the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.”

In 1989, the couple took the plunge into full-time farming, entering into a rental agreement on 180 sows and 100 crop acres. “Over the years, through partnerships with other people and opportunities we have had, we have been able to grow to where we are today,” Mark says.

The cropping operation is mostly in a corn/soybean rotation, but the Legans do grow some continuous corn, and they incorporate cover crops on every acre. The 3,000 sows produce about 80,000 pigs a year to weaning age.

Those hogs produce a source of natural nutrients for the crop farming side of the operation. “As a pig farm, one thing we have always been concerned about is utilizing the manure nutrients we produce,” Mark says. “Cover crops allow us to do that. They help tie up those nutrients when we need to do a fall application of manure, and cover crops bring a lot of long-term benefits to the soil.”

The Legans prefer to apply manure to a cover crop that is established and growing. A commercial applicator uses a low-disturbance injector to apply the manure to the field. “Once the cover crop is established and the roots are actively growing, it is ready to soak up the nutrients,” Mark says.

The Legans continue to experiment with various combinations of species for their cover crop mix. “Annual rye has been a staple of our cover crop program,” Mark says. “We like it from the rooting standpoint. We also use tillage radish. We’ve also tried other species, such as crimson clover and winter wheat.”

After the 2012 drought, the Legans used barley as a cover crop to help reclaim some of the nitrogen left behind by the short corn crop. “We were so short of corn for the sow diets that we planted 110 acres of barley, and took it through to harvest,” Mark adds. “Barley is ready for harvest two to three weeks earlier than wheat, so we were able to double-crop soybeans into those acres, and they turned out pretty well.”

The Legans are considering barley in their long-term plans. “We hope to continue to include barley in the sow diets,” Mark says. “The idea of having a different crop in the rotation really appeals to me. And barley allows us to tie up nutrients from fall application of manure, while pulling out some additional phosphorus from the soil where we are putting on nutrients.”

Spreading those manure nutrients over more acres is a goal for the Legans. “Our farm has always been about trying to optimize inputs,” Mark says. “We’ve seen in recent years that some of our best yields are in continuous corn where manure has been applied. We are always looking for ways to get manure applied to more acres, because we definitely see a yield boost.”