Joel DeJong is an ISU Extension field agronomist working with farmers in northwest Iowa, including Dana Sleezer, who farms near Aurelia. They’re concerned about soil conservation and T-value, the maximum average annual soil loss that will permit current production levels to be maintained economically and indefinitely. Iowa’s T-value is 5 tons per acre per year, which Joel describes as about the width of a dime. Joel says:
You know, we are in the breadbasket of the world. This is the best place for growing corn and soybean, particularly for growing corn. We’ve got a resource that allows for great rooting depth, supplies nutrients, holds water; but one of those things that makes it rich is that organic matter in the top of that soil, which is the building block for the soil. And conservation practices help us to maintain those building blocks and that organic matter in that topsoil.
In conservation, it starts with relationships, helping people understand that this is not a short-term business; this is a long-term business. If you want it to continue into multiple generations, we have to preserve this wonderful resource we’ve got. And the only way to do that is through our conservation efforts to make sure we’re not taking out more than what we’re putting in.
We do strip tillage with our hog manure and commercial fertilizer for time management, the economics; also the soil tilth and conservation side behind it. We really concentrate on conservation and farming practices.
So instead of broadcasting and doing tillage on manure, he wanted to experiment with situations where he was actually strip-tilling the manure, putting those nutrients right below where that corn plant’s going to grow. It was pretty unique. I didn’t know of anybody else that was doing that. But Dana persevered through that process to find a system that now works pretty well for him.
We’ve got a lot of things going on. We’ve got hogs, crops; we put a lot of management into the recordkeeping. The conservation, still, I think, is the key. That’s why we do it, more than anything. There’re challenges in the strip-till, in the no-till — that is a high management system. There’re challenges, but we slowly work through them. But the payback at the end of the year is there.
(Soil is) more of a renewable resource. … Keeping that resource where it is allows us to have much more productive soils and gives us a much better chance for making this a long-term world of crop production rather than a very short-term, “let’s use up the resource” type of a situation.
As I grew up, Extension has been a part of our operation every year. The future will be on the research-based studies they do, and the research that we can grab to make educated decisions.
The long-term is based on relationships, and it takes a relationship to work with producers, to become an important part of their decision-making process. And so, Extension has to have that long-term commitment. Just a one-time information source isn’t going to cut it. They have to have information sources that they, number one, trust; number two, know that when they get that information it is actually going to come true. And that’s the research-based side that helps. And that’s what Extension’s real role is, being able to take that research-based information, being able to sort from all the other information that’s out there, and put it in a format that farmers can believe, trust, and understand — so they can put it into place in their operation.