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Rulon Enterprises’ plan is to be sustainable, as follows:
1. Be a low-cost producer.
2. Increase soil organic matter. 24 years of never-till and other conservation measures have increased organic matter to 3.5%, up from 2.4% in 1991.
3. Pattern tile with 0.5-inch coefficients ((in this 40-inch annual rainfall (Indiana) region to speed drainage on these clay soils)). Standing water for more than 20 minutes costs you 30-50 bushels, says Ken Rulon.
4. The other half of profitability: Be a high-price seller. Ken studies historic price patterns and trends to manage price risk, with a goal of selling in the top 10% of the annual range 75% of the time. “Grain prices vary 30 to 50% each year; costs do not,” Ken says. “We think these goals are required if you want your grandchildren to farm.”
Continuous no-till (24 years) lowers the cost of corn production by 15% and boosts long-term soil organic matter for Rodney (left), Ken and Roy Rulon, Arcadia, Ind.
“Our yield goals range from 90 bushels to 300, based on soils’ productive capacity and breakeven analysis of each zone’s maximum economic return,” Rodney says. Goals hinge on profit metrics rather than on the highest yield.
Variable-rate nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels are based on 20 years of detailed farm records and on-farm replicated strip comparisons at various nutrient levels. By varying nitrogen rates by more than 190% as needed, and basing phosphorus and potassium application rates on 20 years’ of home-farm, one-acre grid soil testing data, the Rulons average 181 and 59 bushels per acre corn and soybean yields. They’ve tested on one-acre grids every fourth year since 1992 (five georeferenced probes per acre).
Total applied nitrogen ranges from 115 pounds to 220 pounds per acre, beginning with 30 pounds 28% nitrogen at planting and the rest sidedressed with an Exactrix direct-injection applicator when the corn is knee-high. The whole-farm average is 168 pounds per acre, with an average corn yield of 181 bushels.
They also variable-rate lime and gypsum based on one-acre grid soil test results. A local generating plant provides affordable gypsum as a byproduct that the Rulons use to increase water infiltration, and help lower their clay soils’ high magnesium levels.
Since their application formulas require much less fertilizer than university recommendations, they’ve tissue-sampled growing crops for years to avoid deficiencies.