Critical watershed concerns such as increasing amounts of dissolved phosphorus require broad discussion and collaborative efforts among agriculture leaders, policy makers and conservationists. That’s what attendees experienced at the annual Conservation In Action Tour held this week in Northwest Ohio.
Hosted by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), this year’s tour focused on agriculture’s influence on the environmental and economic health of the Maumee River and Bay, as well as Lake Erie. The tour included stops at three area producers who are implementing conservation technologies that are productive, profitable and help protect resources. Each operation subscribes to the four “rights” in nutrient stewardship — providing the right fertilizer source to the crop at the right rate, the right time and the right place.
At the 2,900-acre Mavis farm near Edgerton, OH, Gary and Scott Mavis shared their philosophy on conservation and how they are systematically transitioning their operation to a successful no-till system. They divide each field into different yield zones based on the previous years’ yield maps and soil types.
“In 1995, we bought our first yield monitor,” said Gary Mavis, who was one of the area’s first adopters of precision agriculture technology. “After about three years we felt comfortable with the yield maps and were able to establish some management zones. We test the soil in each zone separately and evaluate results. We then variable rate our fertilizer, lime, and seed based on the results and yield potential of each zone. The key is to not overapply when it’s not needed, and precision ag technology helps us do that.”
Attendees got down in the dirt at Allen Dean’s 1,900-acre wheat, soybean and cover crop operation in Williams County, Ohio, where a soil pit showed the benefits of cover crops to soil health. Dean has recently started selling cover crop seed and services to area farmers.
“Cover crops can help improve the moisture-holding capabilities of the soil,” he said. “These crops tend to penetrate deep into the soil, helping to open it up. We see results with our wheat and soybean crops right away from them taking in nutrients that have never been tapped into before and from water infiltrating much quicker than before.”
The operation also analyzes soybean and wheat yield maps to determine zones for soil testing, Dean said. The test results help guide their decisions on precise lime and fertilizer application rates.
Hesterman Farm, a 450-acre corn, soybean and wheat operation in Napoleon, OH, hosted the tour’s final farm stop. Owner Todd Hesterman has practiced no-till continuously for 22 years and has used yield mapping for more than 14 years.
“We’ve incorporated filter strips, quail buffers, and soil sampling in the farm, and plan to install a new drainage water management system,” Hesterman said. “I’ve been blessed with a good base operation and I want to nuture it for future generations.”