Spring has finally arrived, and you are seeing farmers out in the fields and probably traveling down a road you drive on your way to work. So maybe you’re wondering, “What are the farmers doing out there?”
There are many different types of farm equipment, so I don’t expect you to know the difference between a planter or a disc, or a sprayer or a fertilizer spreader. The first thing happening these days is most farmers are doing reduced tillage or just no-till because it promotes soil conservation. Just as the name suggest, no till means there is no tillage of the soil prior to planting. This means the soil is not disturbed and prevents erosion during heavy rains or high winds. This means the planter just moves the old crop residue out of the way where the seeds are planted and leaves everything else alone. Cover crops may also be utilized to ensure the ground is always “covered” even when there is no crop growing (think between fall harvest and spring planting). This also help prevent erosion because the plant roots hold the soil in place.
Most farmers have and follow a nutrient management plan which account for soil types, slopes in highly erodible areas and locations of bodies of water and even wells. These nutrient management plans are sent to the county Land and Water Conservation office for compliance every spring, which means another set of eyes is reviewing the plan to make sure things are done correctly.
When I started farming some 30 years ago, we used to work the soil at least three times before planting, today we either no-till or reduced tillage. Soil conservation is a big priority for getting a high yielding crop and to ensure good soil health in the future.
When it comes to nutrients for the crop, there are many different sources ranging from livestock manure to manufactured fertilizers. Fertilizer can be a dry and granular or in liquid form which allows for greater flexibility in how the nutrients are applied to the fields to be sure the plants are getting the right amount at the right time.
Soils are tested every four years and in 5-acre grids to show what nutrients are in the soil and what amount is present and available for the crops to utilize. The soil is tested in that same 5-acre grid to track nutrient use as well as changes in the soil pH. Soil testing is am important practices that allows farmers to make informed decisions on precisely which nutrients are needed and how much. By using a nutrient management plan in conjunction with soil testing, nutrients are applied at the right rates because over applying just doesn’t make financial dollars and cents. Plants can only use so much of a certain nutrient during the growing season so over applying wouldn’t be good for my crops, my finances or the environment.
I’d like to touch on one nutrient specifically. Phosphorous is usually not applied unless the soil tests show there is a need. Most farmers planting corn are putting a starter fertilizer on at the same time they are planting, either a dry, granular or a liquid starter fertilizer is applied to help get seeds growing quickly. When it comes to manure, it is spread or incorporated into the soil before planting. Manure takes a while to break down in the soil, so applying early is important to making sure the nutrients are available to the plants at the right time.
As the start of spring planting season kicks into gear you can know that farmers are being good stewards of the land. By following nutrient management plans, planting the right seed and using best management practices you can be confident that farmers really care about the land and water. Afterall, farming runs deep in many families and healthy soil and water is essential for future farming generations. Farmers are seeing great results from reduced till and no till practices as well as by following nutrient management plans and its helping make our creeks, streams and lakes cleaner for everyone to enjoy!
Pete Badtke is a dairy farmer from Ripon where he milks 90 cows and runs about 300 acres land, 200 of which he owns. Pete started farming in 1987. He and his wife of 15 years, Lori, have 2 daughters, Kasie 13, Sarah 12. He currently serves as president of the Green Lake County Farm Bureau board and chairman of Calvary Lutheran Church in Princeton.