Agriculture stories

Cropping Innovation and Soil Regeneration Draws Farmer Attention at Hora Field Day

Despite Covid-19 and hot weather, an impressive turnout — more than 150 farmers and other soil-loving attendees — gathered at the Hora family farm in southeast Iowa to experience hands-on soil health demos, cover crop experiments, and creative cropping systems. Continuum Ag founder and soil health consultant Mitchell Hora (shown above in middle of photo, wearing a red polo shirt) showcased the farm’s numerous creative uses of cover crops, relay crops, 60-inch corn, and interseeding demos of cov

A Passion to Showcase Soil Health Builds Consultant Success

Taking a more holistic view of farming — from the health of microbes in the soil to the health of crop profits — has farmers paying attention to a young soil health consultant in eastern Iowa. Mitchell Hora’s data-driven approach to soil biology, combined with his passion for on-farm research and education through field days, helps expand soil health and water quality in Iowa and beyond. With his unique skill set, Hora recently joined the Business Council of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance

Golly Farms Evolution to Precision: A Slow and Strange Summer (Part 2)

“It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.” This famous weekly lead-in to the news from a fictional rural Minnesota town on the Prairie Home Companion radio show has felt strangely true as Todd Golly recaps his summer on the family farm. “As farmers, we’re used to working alone or with family and a few employees, but this year is unlike any other. The summer has seemed slow—no company sales reps or research techs coming by; no equipment companies bringing new technology to test; almost no grain hauling as ethanol plants are closed or barely open; no kids activities; no summer farm shows or county fairs.” Golly says it’s just not the same when personal visits are replaced by more computer screen time with email and Zoom meetings. “Yet the waterhemp are still hanging around,” he chuckles.

Cover Crops Boot Camp -- Farmers Share Lessons Learned

“If you want to succeed at cover crops, you will. If you want to fail at cover crops, you will.” These are examples of some of the honest, direct, farmer-to-farmer wisdom shared at the recent Cover Crops Boot Camp held in Ames. Finding success, considering challenges, and exploring solutions were among the exercises undertaken by more than 100 farmers gathered at the meeting. The Boot Camp was one of the key recommendations that came out of the Conservation Infrastructure initiative. The event

Lessons Learned from Prevent Plant 2019 AND Managing for Better Soil Structure: Repairing Field Ruts

The wet weather cycle and saturated soils have some farmers and ranchers seeking solutions to make their soils, and their farms, more resilient against frequent rain events. Seeking solutions, South Dakota USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and SDSU agronomists shared Prevented Plant field management results from 2019. They compared five different field scenarios, with and without cover crops, to compile lessons learned from this challenging year. To expand on the topic, NRCS State Soil Health Specialist Kent Vlieger led two roundtable discussions...

Golly Farms Evolution to Precision: It’s the Math (Part 1)

Their tech journey began with early yield monitors, which took yield from a basic field level to a map showing unexplained variability within fields. “Once we understood this granularity, it led to changes in soil sampling as we tried to figure out whether variability was caused by soil or topography or other things,” he says. The next phase was early autosteer—basically a straight line—to simply try to get more hours out of equipment. “We were able to plant and do tillage through lunch breaks,

Small businesses receive support as cover crop acres expand.

Farmer entrepreneurs are seeing solid business growth as they launch cover crop support businesses in Iowa. While it’s not Silicon Valley, some farmers are doubling their business annually, which provides great diversity to commodity-driven farm businesses. As cover crop acres ramped up in Iowa from 100,000 in 2011 to almost 1 million in 2019, so have the businesses that serve these farmers — from custom applicators and seed sellers to full-service cover crop companies and soil health businesse

10 lessons from prevented planting in 2019

There were more than 4.7 million prevented planting acres in North Dakota and South Dakota last year. Lessons gleaned by Natural Resources Conservation Service-South Dakota about managing those acres include: 1. Wait for soils to dry. When soils begin to thaw, do not try to graze cover crops planted on prevented planting acres. 2. Too wet to bale. Baling cover crops on prevented planting acres was generally not successful because some of the species in cover crop seed mixes remained too wet to

Top tips for managing crops on 2019’s Prevented Plant fields

After enduring soggy soils repeatedly during 2019, South Dakota growers can’t wait to see crops emerge from last year’s Prevented Plant fields. From field condition and weed control planning to fallow syndrome, fertility, green planting and interseeding cover crops — check out current advice compiled by agronomists and soil scientists from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and South Dakota State University Extension, with involvement from South Dakota's Conservation Districts,

Iowa Farmers Rely on Cover Crops to Improve Prevent Plant Acres

The calendar can’t turn fast enough this year for farmers, many who endured both a soggy #Plant 19 and a wet, snowy #Harvest19, as Twitter posts showcased. Late snow runoff and frequent big storms drenched the Midwest during planting season, which idled 11.4 million acres of corn and 4.4 million acres of soybeans nationally, according to FSA data received from farmers. States like South Dakota (2.9 million acres corn and 868,000 acres soybeans), Illinois (1.1 million corn and 331,000 soybeans),

Partners Help Grow Iowa Farm Into Conservation Research Showcase

Ask Iowa cattleman and farmer Bill Couser about how his conservation journey began. He humbly and proudly mentions the values instilled in him by his conservationist father, Dick Couser. "He got us going down the right path — wanting to do conservation right, or not at all," he says."Then, there was this gentleman, Elmer Paul, who owned the small cattle farm I purchased some 50 years ago. He was an environmentalist, always hosting and teaching Iowa State University (ISU) st

Soil Saving Farmers Invest in Practices to Improve Water Quality

In the rolling hills of east-central Iowa in Cedar County, family farmers Ken Fawcett and his nephew Kent Stuart have long used conservation practices that keep the soil at home and healthy. However, it was their desire to improve water quality that led them to the recent installation of a saturated buffer. These innovators have always sought the best conservation methods for their farm, which was established in 1851 near West Branch. Gully erosion next to a freshwater spring led to a grade st

Growing Carinata in the Southeastern U.S.

Brassica carinata, or Ethiopian mustard, derived from the interspecific cross between B. nigra (black mustard) and B. oleracae (wild cabbage), is a non-food oilseed crop that is currently being grown in the U.S. Southeast as a low-input, sustainably certified winter crop. Research is ongoing in the Northern Plains with plans to develop carinata as a spring rotational crop, especially adaptable for semi-arid regions. Carinata offers benefits over other brassica species in terms of seed size, frost and drought tolerance, disease resistance, higher yields, and less seed shattering at maturity and during harvest. It is high in oil content (>40%) with a favorable fatty acid profile that converts easily into aviation biofuel for jets and biodiesel. Once oil is removed, the seed meal is high in protein (43–46%), currently approved for beef cattle rations, with ongoing research to certify the meal for use in poultry, swine, and aquaculture. Carinata is currently being grown in a closed-loop, sustainably-grown contract system between farmers and Agrisoma, and it doesn’t disrupt normal summer cash crops. To date, carinata has been commercially contracted...

Making field variability pay

Farmers’ heads were nodding approval during a presentation by Dan Frieberg, as he showcased how farmers and advisors are using data to make profitable decisions. Since Frieberg founded Premier Crop in 1999, their mission has been to assist growers and their trusted agronomic advisors to create real value from geo-referenced agronomic data. His team converts data to knowledge that supports improved production decisions in an economic and sustainable manner. “We’re a web-based software company th

14 stories for World Soil Day

Here are just a few CSD stories among hundreds in support of soil health and water quality—to deliver more productive U.S. soils. Soil conservation has long been an editorial theme at Corn+Soybean Digest. But advancing soil biology has been an increasing focus for the past six years—because soil health practices are proving to be a game changer for farmers. We have a long way to go to rebuild the natural productivity of our soils, which have lost about 50% of their soil organic matter since co

Identifying problem acres

While most farmers can quickly point to field locations where yields traditionally drop, fewer farmers have data that drives decisions to change poor acres. But as EFC Systems Vice President Dave Muth pointed out at Corn+Soybean Digest’s data and technology conference last winter, data can help you specifically identify these problem acres (and find others), dividing them into different businesses. See Muth’s presentation in a gallery posted on CSD’s website (go to, where he w

Tips to build a digital farm strategy

To make the most use of your data to maximize yields, begin with a farm data strategy One of the keynote speakers at our Ag Data Conference last November in Iowa City, Iowa, helped attendee farmers grasp the importance of a digital farm strategy. John Fulton, Ohio State University precision agriculture professor and data expert, provided insight on their data collection and organization, tools and software, evaluation, variable-rate prescriptions, security, sharing data and short/long-term stra

Economics of soil loss

Judging soil loss is difficult, as indicated by an instant survey among attendees at our inaugural Ag Data Conference in November. Survey showed 42% of farmers estimated that they averaged less than 1/4 ton per acre annual soil loss in 2016, with another 38% saying 1/4 to 1 ton per acre. However, to achieve such an extremely low erosion rate, you’d have to be doing zero tillage on a flat field, said Stan Buman, head of Land O’ Lakes Sustain program. Average soil loss rate is 5.8 tons per acre
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