Agriculture: Sustaining Future Generations is the theme for this year’s National Ag Day. Sustainable is the buzz word that might have the most staying power in both farm and food conversations. It sounds green. It sounds smart. It elevates a simple kid’s phrase like “reduce, reuse, recycle” to an adult mantra of “environmentally friendly sustainable living”.
To sustain something however, means to maintain it at a certain rate or level. Quite frankly, if our grandfathers just sustained their farms, we probably wouldn’t be farming today. In agriculture, sustainability is important, but improvement drives our decisions.
I could offer a laundry list of ways we are improving our farm:
- Equipment technology gives us the ability to plant seed, apply fertilizer and crop protection tools, and harvest precisely and efficiently.
- Genetically modified seed has reduced our use of inputs and thus the cost of them.
- Grain handling improvements allows us to save more of the crop during and after harvest, store it, watch the markets and still deliver quality products months down the road.
- Market access diversified giving us opportunities to sell grain for food, fuel and fiber use in both domestic and export markets.
But instead, I’ll give some farm specific examples of how we plan to improve during this year’s growing season.
- Soybean cyst nematodes continue to be the number one enemy of soybean producers. These little buggers make a meal of the plant’s roots, sapping its ability to absorb water and nutrients. This season we will be applying a new insecticide to fight this battle.
- All crops require a certain level of nitrogen to grow. Soybeans make their own nitrogen and farmers can count on some being left in the field for their next corn crop. But researchers are finding that soybeans may need even more nitrogen to cross the next big yield plateau. So, instead of applying more nitrogen to those fields, we are going to incorporate an inoculant or bacteria at planting that will stimulate the soybean plant to producing its own nitrogen. Nothing added, nothing lost. Less cost to us, better for the environment and hopefully a higher quality bean crop in the fall.
- Herbicide-resistant weeds is the hot topic in farming today. We know the issue, it was an issue long before the anti-gmo crowd decided to use it as a rallying cry for the evils of the science. On our farm, we have followed best management practices, never planting the same hybrid or using the same crop protection plan on the same field in consecutive years. This year, we are taking that one step further and plan to change up our crop protection routine by using newer herbicides.
- Last year we staked soil moisture probes in several fields and monitored rain fall and plants’ water usage, comparing that to our harvest yields. With one year under our belt, we will employ this data with new data collected for soil probes and learn even more how our plants respond to the things we cannot control, namely Mother Nature.
Before kids, our farming decisions answered, “How will this make us better farmers?”
After kids, our farming decisions try to support the day when one or all come home and say, “I want to farm too.”
On our farm we are about Improving for Future Generations.