Conserving natural resources — land, water and wildlife — epitomizes the efforts that this year's regional Conservation Legacy Award winners achieved. From continuous no-till to cover crops to using all the precision-ag technology at their fingertips, this select group of farmers is all about finding ways to save their soil and profit from their agronomic practices.
The awards highlight the endeavors and achievements of these producers who meet the challenges of caring for the environment — and still reap economic returns from their operations.
In its ninth year, applications came from three regions, and final selections were judged by a panel of conservation professionals.
All three regional winners and spouses or guests will receive expense-paid trips to Commodity Classic in Anaheim, CA, March 4-6. Winners also receive plaques and the overall winner — announced at Commodity Classic — gets a yard sign in recognition of the award.
The Conservation Legacy Award program is sponsored by the American Soybean Association, Monsanto and Corn & Soybean Digest.
CLAY CENTER, KS
As a fifth-generation farmer, Josh Lloyd lives just a half mile from where his great-great-grandfather homesteaded in the late 1800s. With that history, he says, “Farming decisions are not based solely on what is good for the current generation, but consideration is given to what will ensure success for generations to come.”
Lloyd came back to the farm in 1998 after studying business at Kansas State University to carry on the no-till strategy that his father began in the 1990s. “My father's reluctance to move to continuous no-till was that he didn't feel there was a good enough no-till seeder at the time,” he says. His father instituted minimum-tillage practices in the late 1980s.
“With the improvement in no-till seeders and our ability to control grasses with herbicides, I see no reason to do tillage anymore. Continuous no-till has increased my profitability by decreasing input costs and making my farm more efficient,” he says.
Lloyd operates with essentially three pieces of equipment: a self-propelled sprayer, an air seeder with tractor and a combine. On his 2,900 no-till acres, main crops are wheat, milo and soybeans. Nearly all the cropland is terraced, but terraces only control about 20% of the potential erodibility of a field, he says. Since 80% of the erodibility is still there, continuous no-till fit the bill. He also uses 20 acres of buffer strips on his Clay Center, KS, operation.
Lloyd uses double crops (dc) and cover crops in his management system. Cover crops used are wheat, milo, soybeans, corn, sunflowers, sudan, cow pea, sun hemp, clover, winter canola, turnip, radish, barley, wither oats and rye. “I have one field where the rotation has been soybeans, dc wheat, dc milo, soybeans, dc wheat, dc soybeans, dc wheat and dc sunflowers, which gives me eight crops in five years,” he explains.
He selects disease-resistant varieties and treats seed, which decreases input costs compared to spraying, and has less environmental impact. “Continuous no-till plays a part in my IPM by suppressing weeds naturally because by not tilling the soil, weed seeds are left undisturbed, residue mulch is left on top and competition is created by growing a crop,” he says.
Lloyd soil samples every two years and uses tissue samples to determine fertilizer levels. Starters are applied in-row and fertilizer is put on with thought to timeliness so that potential for runoff and leaching are kept to a minimum. Also, he injects a neighbor's hog manure 6 in. into the soil on 36-in. spacings; then he quickly plants a cover crop which eliminates erosion and ties up nitrates to keep fertility in the field and protect water quality. Guidance and mapping ensure that he doesn't overapply fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
Lloyd doesn't have permanent fertilizer- or pesticide-handling facilities. He tries to take delivery of fertilizers and pesticides at or near time of application. “When I take delivery of liquid fertilizer, it's stored in portable cone-bottomed tanks that are placed on rock in a well-lighted area of my yard so it's not tampered with.”
Continuous no-till also preserves and enhances wildlife habitat by leaving residues undisturbed, Lloyd says, and he's seen an increase in wildlife on the farm since making the switch.
Summing up his farming efforts, Lloyd says: “Conservation to me is managing our natural resources in such a way that they'll be in better shape for future generations.”
Malcolm Oatts is not a newcomer to no-till. Just the opposite. “Back in the mid-1960s I purchased a no-till, six-row, 30-in. planter. That's also when I started planting double-crop soybeans behind wheat,” he says.
On the home farm, which he purchased in 1983, he spent the first year clearing and cleaning it by adding terraces, waterways and contour strips. “We built a levy and brought the terrace around it, and it's still working,” he explains.
He put in grass strips between the cropland and Little River, which help control soil erosion, chemical runoff, loss of fertilizer and topsoil.
Part of Oatts' farm is within the city limits of Hopkinsville, and he says: “It's my desire to do everything I can to be environmentally friendly by being careful to read all pesticide labels and adhering to all guidelines and restrictions. It's imperative I do all within my power to protect the city's water supply by not allowing any contaminants to leave my farm.” Samples are pulled regularly from the farm, and to date no contamination has been found.
A separate room under lock and key is used for chemical storage. He buys fertilizer directly and the fertilizer company applies it so none is stored on-farm.
CRP ground between his farm and the river is considered a wildlife food plot area and is planted to orchardgrass, bi-color lespedeza, switchgrass, Indian grass, Korean lespedeza and ladino clover.
All 190 of his acres are in contours, with 42 acres of buffer strips and 50 acres of terraces.
Oatts is in the 100-bu. wheat club, 200-bu. corn club and is convinced he'll eventually make the 300-bu. corn club. His top corn yield hit 291 bu./acre in 2008.
“I work diligently to promote soil conservation, to protect water quality and have strived to be the best steward of the land that I can possibly be,” he says.
H. GRANT TROOP
After 34 years of farming, H. Grant Troop says the first action he pursues when a new tract of land is acquired is to request a conservation plan from the local Soil Conservation District/Natural Resources Conservation District. And the rest is history.
“My goal is to produce the highest economic crop yield levels that each parcel is capable of producing,” says Troop. “Then I try to manage the soil and water resources with the highest level of stewardship. For me, these two goals are inseparable.”
All cropland acres are in continuous no-till, which Troop says has reduced sheet and rill erosion, increased plant-available moisture, reduced carbon dioxide losses from the soil and improved soil organic matter.
Troop soil samples each field at least once every three years and the results are used as the foundation to build his nutrient management plans (NMP), which are written by Maryland certified nutrient management planners. NMPs are updated at least every three years. Credits from soil reserves, previous crops, cover crops and manure (when used) are totaled. Credits for each nutrient are then subtracted from the crop needs profile to determine if additional nutrients are required.
He practices integrated pest management (IPM) to closely monitor insect, weed and disease pressure. “My first line of defense is to select corn hybrids and soybean varieties with the highest available combination of pest resistance ratings for predominant crop pests in the region,” he says.
Either seed-applied or banded insecticide is used to limit pesticide exposure. Broadcast insecticide applications have been eliminated to curtail their potential negative impacts on beneficial insects, Troop says. He also hires a custom applicator for application accuracy, employing GPS technology and drift-control sprayer nozzles.
Troop uses contour farming on 95 acres of his 102, with field borders and filter strips to allow farm equipment room to turn. Most of the strips are entered in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and are planted to cool-season grasses and legumes. He also has 7 acres protected with pipe outlet cropland terraces.
All pesticides are stored on a concrete floor in a separate room in a cement block building. Jugs are triple-rinsed and then delivered to a state-sponsored pick-up site for recycling. No tankmixing or filling of any large crop sprayers is done on-site.
Troop works at keeping a healthy wildlife population by providing food plots of cool-season grasses, legumes and other forbs. He also manages woodlands for wildlife with stands of pawpaw, persimmon, nuts, grapes and fruit trees such as pear. Besides whitetail deer, squirrels, bald eagles and foxes, he's now actively managing for bobwhite quail and cottontail rabbits, too.
Troop believes in walking the walk and belongs to several conservation groups. He even helped start the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance and was the partnership conservation agronomist for the “Park the Plow” initiative.