Information exchange is key to Boone farmer's success
by Tracy Petersen, extension communications
Dave Pepper is one of those people who never tires of learning. And these days theres plenty to learn about farming.
Pepper, a Boone County hog and crop producer, attends several workshops and seminars each year to glean information about the latest techniques and technologies in agriculture. Recently hes had a chance to contribute to the learning process.
In 1996 Pepper signed on as a cooperator in the Manure Nutrient Management Initiative Demonstrations. His goal was to gain tangible proof of the value of the manure produced by his 2,000 hogs each year. Hes learned that and more, and hes willing to share.
"The crop usage and nutrient portion of the nutrient management workshop I attended last winter was taken from the plot here," Pepper said.
"Daves neighbors are paying attention," said John Creswell, Iowa State University Extension crop field specialist and coordinator of Peppers demonstration site, but theyre not necessarily following his lead. "Right now Daves an innovator. In another 10 years hell be one of our farm leaders in central Iowa."
What Pepper has learned is that when he spreads 7 tons per acre of his hogs manure on the land he farms, he nearly meets the nutrient requirements for corn. The 7 tons are worth $50. He saves $15 per acre in nitrogen costs alone.
"If you dont take credit for the manure youre applying, youre wasting money," Pepper said.
Pepper also learned that he improves his stands by applying the manure in the fall.
Crewell noted that the closer to the time of planting the manure is applied, the more problems producers are likely to encounter. Application of manure on wet soils in the spring can cause compaction problems that can affect plant stands. In addition, manure applied at reasonable rates, such as 7 tons per acre, may cause difficulty with good seed placement in the soil as the planter goes through the surface applied manure.
"Thats probably the most important thing weve learned from Daves plot," Creswell said.
Pepper applies manure solids with a small box spreader. After analyzing the nutrient content, Creswell helped him calibrate his spreader.
"I put plastic bags down and had Dave drive over them while spreading manure," Creswell recalled. "I correlated the proportion of manure per acre using a 50-pound fish scale from Wal-Mart that I checked for accuracy against ISUs scales." The message, he said, is that its easy to put nutrient information to work.
While Pepper contributed to the nutrient management workshop by hosting a research plot, he gained information, as well.
"I didnt have a written manure management plan before I attended the meeting, but I do now," he said. "When I wrote the plan I found that we were already doing a pretty good job. But I also found that it helped in the area of fine-tuning what were doing."
Pepper, with a 100-sow farrow-to-finish operation, is not required to have a written manure management plan.
"But if we were pressed, we would have proof of what were doing," he said. "And we might need one down the road."
Pepper said he doesnt mind providing written proof that hes a good steward of the land.
"The public has a right to feel safe, to assurances that were using the tools and information to do things responsibly," he said. The trade-offs, he added, are slight. "I like what I do real well. The little nuances like written manure management plans are a small price to pay."
Last winter Pepper thought about making a significant change in his operation. He hired analysts to take a look at contract hog production. Pepper decided the method wasnt for him, preferring to retain his independence, and to increase the crops portion of his farm instead the hogs portion.
"I would consider the hogs to be the value-added part of the operation and the corn and beans the main raw product," he said.
To help him tend to his crops and hogs Pepper hires students from ISU. Labor is almost always cheaper than technology, he said, so he makes do with smaller equipment and more labor.
"Besides," he said, "Its a neat way to not always have to work by myself."
But the real benefit to employing students, he said, is gleaning information theyve picked up in classes and other jobs.
"They bring a lot of new ideas," he said. "Without a doubt they keep you fresh."
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Page last updated October 5, 2004
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