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“Let’s take the good ideas of all cropping systems,” says Fred Yoder, Plain City, Ohio. While no-till is the backbone of Yoder’s adaptation plan, he also:
- Geared up his equipment fleet with GPS and autosteer for a 10-day planting window
- Plants the most advanced genetics available, designed for a quick start and weather stresses. Sidedresses N on corn to reduce the chance of losing it to leaching, while reducing application rates to just 0.75 pound per bushel of expected yield.
- Plants cover crops, including a tillage radish-winter pea mix.
“Whenever you enhance the organic matter, you are better able to handle drought and wet weather,” he says.
If Fred Yoder had doubts that weather affecting his Ohio farm would become more extreme, they vanished in 2011 and 2012, when back-to-back ultra-wet and ultra-dry years tested his farm.
Yoder, who no-tills 1,500 acres near Plain City, 25 miles northwest of Columbus, says the double-whammy weather was an opportunity to ground-truth a system he’s designed to be resilient in the face of extreme conditions.
“We learned a lot from those two seasons,” says Yoder, a past president of the National Corn Growers Association. “Because of no-till, we didn’t have the severe erosion you would expect from the big rains that continued after planting in 2011. It softened the blow from all that rain. And in extremely dry 2012, it helped guard the crop from moisture loss from bare soil.”
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Yoder harvested his second-best corn and soybean crop in 40 years in Ohio’s wettest year ever: 2011. Then, in 2012, drought halved his crop size. But that was still more than twice the size of his 1988 conventionally planted drought-reduced crop, even though the 2012 drought was much worse than the 1988 event.
“We have improved our soil’s organic matter to hold moisture and have lots of plant residue on top to save moisture, too,” he says. “If you can go an extra week or two without moisture, that can be the difference between getting a crop or not. Bottom line, no-till helps to safeguard you from adverse weather, whether it is wet or dry.”
The meandering creek running through his farm is longer-term evidence of a shift toward more extreme weather. The creek flooded severely in 1959, then again in 1997 and 1999, both 100-year floods.
“I’m seeing severe weather events more and more of the time,” he says. “You talk to farmers, and they are leery about climate change, but they agree that weather patterns are changing. We have to do what we can to adapt to these weather changes.”