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Conservation Corner

‘Environmental audit’ aids Farmer

Tue, August 23, 2011

John Traub admits he was becoming one of those farmers who did the same thing over and over again, but that all changed with his involvement in conservation and research programs.


The Traub family enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program about two years ago and is among three family farms involved in the new Indian Creek Watershed Project.

The Traub farm is a multi-generational farm based in southern Livingston County. Since 1980, John and Bonnie have farmed with son John C. and his wife, Diane. In 2008, son John Jacob Traub and his wife, Kristin, joined the operation.

The Traubs grow corn; soybeans and specialty hybrid seed corn, as well as hybrid sunflowers over 4,000 acres, and were named the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District’s 2010 Farm Family of the Year.

“We worked with Terry Bachtold, Livingston County SWCD ag resource coordinator through the process, we worked with the staff at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and found it to be a real rewarding or eye-opening,” Traub said during a recent tour of the three farms enrolled in the watershed project.

“The process is more like an environmental audit of what you’re doing farming practice-wise and with the tillage and fertilizer applications that you’re doing. The process itself is good because it made us stop and think about what we were doing.

“I found myself more and more becoming a crotchety old farmer that does the same thing over and over and over again, and yet this process made us stop and think about OK, why do we do that? Is there a benefit to it? Are we putting these nutrients in the right place at the right time and the right amount?

“Just going through the process of this CSP program, whether you decide to participate in it or not, was good for us.”

The CSP and Indian Creek Watershed Projects are both voluntary, allowing growers to opt in or out or select what practices they want to continue or add.

The watershed project is an effort to increase the adoption of conservation agricultural systems and measure the effectiveness of different nutrient management practices on local farms.

The watershed project research on the Traub farm includes using fall-applied nitrogen with an RTK strip-till system and comparing it to a conventional chisel plow system.

A special feature at this site is the demonstration of nitrogen use efficiency rate comparison, done with field-scale equipment so that the farm can apply the rate treatments and harvest the plots with conventional equipment without interrupting the family’s normal production routine. This demonstrates a simple approach to on-farm research that every farmer can adopt.

“We’re using his equipment to do different rates of nitrogen across the field,” said Tim Smith of Cropsmith, one of the watershed project planners. We’re comparing two different systems in this case. We’re comparing a strip-till system versus more of a traditional chisel plow system so the application of the nitrogen doesn’t correspond with the planting.

“One of the things that has made that available is the advent of the global positioning system technology and the controllers that we have available to do it.”

Traub will use his own yield monitor at harvest.

“We’ll take that yield monitor data and analyze that to determine what the optimum N rate is for this year. That will provide us with some good information on what the right rate is and whether this placement system is more efficient than other placement systems,” Smith said.

“We’d like to do more of these on-farm field scale trials. You can do a lot of small farm stuff, but when you do it in a farmer’s field with his own equipment, that’s where the proof really is. That proves the concept.

“There is lots of data out there about best management practices, but until you do it on your own farm and get comfortable with the fact that maybe you can do it this way and use a little less nitrogen or maybe a side-dress application is more efficient than a fall application.

“When you’ve fought through those things yourself, that’s when you change the way you’re doing things, and once you’ve changed the way you’re doing things, it stays ingrained for a long time until somebody makes you change and do something different.”

“A good part of this project, and one of the main things that I think is a real benefit, is it shows that we are proactive and that we’re interested in our environment,” Traub said. “I think in the current budget and political environment we find ourselves in, it’s been easy to vilify or paint big ag, big production or whatever you want to call it as kind of the bogeyman and blame a lot on the ag industry for some of the things that are going on in the Mississippi River Basin.

“Whether it’s justified or not, although we’re important, the reality is we’re a small political constituency and I think it’s been easy to dump a lot of the responsibility for the problems on us. This project shows we’re not bogeymen out here poisoning the atmosphere and killing our environment. We breathe the air, we drink the water just like our neighbors and we’re concerned about doing the right thing.

“That’s an important thing about the watershed, and if we as producers can enroll our farms in this program, we can maybe change a few things, do some things different, adopt a few conservation practices. The program is designed that we get rewarded for those things that we’re doing. If we can make a difference in the water and we can show the benefits to our neighbors, I think the project is really worthwhile.”

Fertility management practices have been ongoing at the Traub farm, so enrolling in the watershed project has been an ideal fit for the family.

The Traubs strip-till corn and no-till soybeans in a rotation over the majority of their acres. A continuous corn system, matched with conservation mulch till and some strip-till is used on the flatter and more productive farms or where manure is available.

The Traubs’ tillage and crop system goal is to maximize and maintain crop yields while providing each farm with the best erosion and water quality protection possible. They installed terraces, buffer strips, filter strips, grass waterways and drainage tile on some of the more “challenging” ground to help protect soil and water quality.

The family prefers to use a 3.3-acre GPS grid system for soil testing. They use standards and recommendations from the University of Illinois and U of I Extension for fertility issues and test each tract every four years. A more frequent testing schedule is used where manure is applied.

Traub finds variable rate application technology to be most cost-effective and accurate.

“On a personal note, when I think about nutrient management and conservation, in particular, I guess I can’t think about conservation without thinking about God’s perfect creation,” Traub said. “He has really blessed this area with wonderful soil resources, natural resources, and for all of us who are farmers out here, we got the opportunity to be God’s gardeners so to speak.

“When I think about conservation and I think about His creation, I guess in the end I would like to think that when I pass away that God will look at me and say, ‘Well, you know that guy was a pretty good gardener,’ and I’d like to leave His garden better than how I found it.”

The Conservation Technology Information Center and Livingston County SWCD are project leads. Project partners include the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency with funding provided through the Clean Water Act and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as support from corporate sponsors.
NRCS is continuously taking applications for the CSP program year around.  So if you are interested stop in and see your local District Conservationist and submit an application for the program.


Adapted from an article by Tom Doran
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Published in AgriNews

 

Comments

Although our country has no business paying for any of these farm programs with our tremendous debt, they are great for the farmer and wildlife. We need to enjoy this luxury while we have a chance. Somewhere within the next 200 years all of this land will need to be farmed to feed an exploding world population, hence the wildlife and hunting will be a thing of the past.

Posted by yellowstone on August 23

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