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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.
“We’ve always expected $4 corn,” says Ken Rulon. “Our cost of production including a return to our owned land $3.89.” He wears the financial-management hat in a progressive Arcadia, Ind., row-crop and hog operation.
Rulon Enterprises capitalizes on advanced, environmentally beneficial practices to build soil health and sustainable profits. His family’s emphasis on soil health and disciplined, financial management and marketing makes them extremely competitive in today’s lean environment. The operation, in the family since 1869, includes Ken, his brother Roy and cousin Rodney.
Continuous no-till lowers the Rulons’ cost of corn production by 15%
and boosts long-term soil organic matter. A full array of conservation and progressive agronomic practices build soil productivity, leverages nutrient costs and retention, and cuts overhead. The farm is a training site for Indiana NRCS employees and hosts numerous conservation tours.
Ken Rulon tallies cover crops’ bottom line, six-year Purdue-affiliated fertility and conservation research plots compared to conventional tillage and agronomy practices.
The Rulons also invest heavily in continuing education. And specialized management roles insure well-honed, focused, specialized expertise. Ken manages grain marketing, risk and financial management. His brother Roy manages farm operations, equipment and employees. Cousin Rodney Rulon handles GIS analysis, tiling layout plans and agronomic practices like variable-rate nutrient and seeding formulas.
“Strip-till doesn’t work for us because we get 38 to 40 inches precip here annually,” Ken says. Erosion down the tilled strips is horrendous. No-till (for 24 years), pattern tile drainage and increasing soil organic matter are the Rulons’ weather hedge. “If water stands for more than 20 minutes, you lose 30 to 50 bushels per acre in corn.
“Conventional tillage is not essential for high corn yields,” says Tony Vyn, Purdue agronomist. He’s researched no-till corn for 34 years. “Your tillage system has less impact on high yields than hybrid selection, optimum plant density and fertility levels.”