During 2012’s long, hot summer, Roger Wenning got a firsthand look at how a little soil residue can go a long way to add resilience to a crop. On May 14, the Greensburg, Ind., farmer no-tilled corn into a field that had been in a ryegrass/crimson clover cover crop over the winter. Since this was a high population study, he used a twin-row planter to seed at a population of either 39,000 or 45,000 seeds/acre.
Then it quit raining in southeast Indiana. The field received only 0.64 in. in May, then no more measurable precipitation until July 18, when it caught nearly an inch of rain. “There was a lot of heat right around pollination time,” Wenning recalls. “We went out to check the field and were shocked when we found that every stalk had an ear, and the ears were filled out well.”
When plots were harvested, the weigh wagon showed that dry weather had given a slight advantage to the lower population plots for most of the hybrids. But the yields across the plots ranged from 120 to 180 bu./acre. “There’s no question the yields held up because of the cover crops and no-till,” Wenning says. “Soil health definitely plays a role in helping crops fight off stress.”
Soil health is the main focus at Wenning Farms, in the rolling hills and tight clay soils of southeastern Indiana. The family operates more than 600 acres in a corn/soybean rotation.
Conservation buffers are an integral part of the operation. More than 80 acres of its crop land is devoted to grass waterways, filter strips, whole or partial field blocks planted to native warm-season grasses, plus field border/quail buffer improvements. The family also operates more than 50 acres of improved timbered land. Due to the success of its conservation efforts, Wenning Farms won a Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contract from the NRCS in 2010. The CSP is designed to reward the best soil stewards.
That’s a big commitment to conservation, but Wenning has a simple explanation for why he saves soil and values soil health.
“God just gave us so much soil out here, and it’s our job to take care of it,” he says. “My father started the farm, and I need to keep it as good or better than he left it. I have sons coming into the operation to farm with me; I want to keep this productive for them. And I’ve got grandchildren, so 50 years from now, I want them to have a great farm, working with healthy soils.”