Finding Solutions in Every Turn
Learning & Sharing Knowledge
We’ve been a part of a local farmer-led conservation group for several years. The interaction and discussion with fellow farmers has been invaluable as we discuss management practices, soil tests and practical applications of new ideas. Sharing experiences of failure or less than optimal results has been a great way to learn together. There are also many podcasts and online sources of information that we utilize to learn more about soil health and the variables impacting nutrient utilization and yields.
Hosting groups to discuss our farming enterprise and share modern farming practices is something we’re committed to. Every year we host the University of MN Cow-Calf Day Seminar. This event brings more than 100 beef producers to the farm for an evening of information sharing and fellowship. We routinely host corporate groups and recently had the opportunity to welcome Senators Klobuchar and Boozman for a Farm Bill Listening Session. This summer a group of more than 30 NRCS staff spent half a day learning about our crop management systems and discussing how to optimize interactions with farmers. Exposing youth to agriculture is accomplished through multiple visits to local high schools to give presentations about soil health and sustainability.
Our Crop Rotation
The crop rotation at Rossman Farms has traditionally been corn and soybeans. Grain is marketed as a cash crop through local cooperatives and to ethanol plants. Following interactions with other farmers in the area who were curious about more diverse crop rotations and tillage effects on soil health and water quality, we began to explore different management choices. Over a multi-year period we have transitioned to mostly no-till across the majority of our acres. Our crop rotation has expanded to include sweet corn, peas, oats and cover crops. Our goals include preventing soil erosion, keeping nutrients in the fields and utilizing manure as well as optimizing yields with minimal inputs. These management changes should also impact microbial activity below ground.
Once canning crops are harvested, we are able to plant cover crops. Depending on fall growth, extended grazing can occur after pastures go dormant in the fall. This has allowed for extended grazing in the fall. Spring cover crop growth can be adequate enough for chopping and inclusion into cattle rations.
Adding cover crops to the crop rotation has been quite a learning experience. We’ve tried several seeding options including aerial, drilling and airflow application with fertilizer. The success of cover crops is highly weather-dependent and we’ve needed to be flexible in adjusting grazing as well as utilization of growth in the spring. We’ve chopped and baled rye in the spring and planted green into standing rye. Spring weather conditions dictate the management plan. With the ability to utilize the rye in multiple forms in cattle rations, the cover crops have provided a feedstuff that reduces rations costs for the cow herd.
Moving beyond a single-species cover crop is a goal and we’ve planted some multi-species this year. We’ve utilized tile line water analysis as well as soil nitrate tests to evaluate the impacts of our management changes on water quality. We have implemented a standardized soil sampling protocol that results in data that can be used to develop our nutrient management plan. Hog and cattle manure are critical nutrient sources that are incorporated with a minimal disturbance applicator bar.