Table of Contents

 

Sponsors...................................................................................................................... 2

Board of Directors.............................................................................................. 3

 

Conference Survey................................................................................................ 4

 

Agenda......................................................................................................................... 6

 

Opening Remarks..................................................................................................... 7

                   Doug Luebke, President SDNTA

 

The Real Dirt............................................................................................................. 8

                   Dr. Jill Clapperton, Rhizosphere Ecologist, Lethbridge, Alberta

 

Long-term Impacts of Tillage Erosion on Productivity................... 10

                        Dr. David Lobb, Soil Scientist, University of Manitoba

 

Integrating Livestock into No-Till Farming Systems......................... 16

                        Gabe Brown, Farmer/Rancher, Bismarck, ND

                        Jay Fuhrer, NRCS District Conservationist, Bismarck, ND

 

Cover Crop:  The Good and the Bad............................................................ 20

                        Dr. S. Osborne, USDA-ARS, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD

 

Soil Carbon and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Offsets............................ 28

                        Dr. Gordon Smith, Environmental Resource Trust

 

Marketing No-Till................................................................................................... 36

                        Karl Kupers, Farmer, Harrington, WA

 

Conservation Security Program.................................................................. 41

                        Jason Miller, Conservation Agronomist, USDA-NRCS

 

Do You “C” What I “C”?.......................................................................................... 42

                        Dr. Dwayne Beck, Dakota Lakes, South Dakota State University


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sponsors List

No Till: The Next Step

 

The South Dakota No-Till Association would like to thank the following sponsors for their contributions and support. Financial support from sponsors helps to reduce registration costs, travel and lodging expenses of speakers, facility costs, proceedings, refreshments and other expenses. 

 

Gold

v      Pioneer Hi-Bred International

v      Gustafson

v      North Central Farmers Elevator

v      Monsanto

v      DuPont Crop Protection

v      BASF

v      Horsch Anderson

v      Syngenta

v      NK Brand Seeds

v      Moodie Implement

v      Mid West Cooperatives

v      Far Better Farm Equipment

v      Mountain View Harvest Cooperative

v      South Dakota Department of Agriculture

v      SDSU Extension Service

v      Natural Resources Conservation Service

 

Silver

v      Farm Credit Services of America

v      South Dakota Oilseeds Council

v      South Dakota Wheat Commission

v      South Dakota Corn Utilization Council

v      Hinrichs Trading Company–contracting chickpeas in SD

v      Sam’s Seeds

 

Bronze

v      Ducks Unlimited

v      Hughes County Conservation District

v      South Dakota Soybean Research & Utilization Council

v      Exapta Solutions

 

We could not do it without them!
South Dakota No-Till Association
Board of Directors

 

 

 


Doug Luebke
PO Box 23
Corsica, SD  57328
605-946-5255

Rick Bieber
26510 127th St, Box 50
Trail City,  SD  57657
605-845-7085

Danny Wipf
Lakeview Colony
28748 386th Ave
Lake Andes, SD  57356

         

 

 

Kent Kinkler
30240 194th St
Onida, SD  57564
605-264-5337 (Shop)
605-264-5237 (Home)

Leo Vojta
222 W 8th Street
Mobridge, SD  57601
605-845-3709

Craig Stehly
601 Roselander Road
Mitchell, SD  57301
605-996-8466 (Home)
605-996-8525 (Shop)
605-999-8466 (Cell)

 

 

 

David Neuharth
21369 261st Street
Ft. Pierre, SD  57532
605-567-3366

Alan Biegler
Box 188
Timber Lake, SD  57656
605-865-3231

David Gillen
25625 372nd Ave
White Lake, SD  57383
605-249-2385

 

 

 

Jim Glanzer
PO Box 67
Doland, SD  57436

Terry Ness
29971 204th St
Pierre, SD  57501

Ruth Beck
Executive Officer/Treasurer
1208 E Church St
Pierre, SD  57501
605-224-8891

 



South Dakota No-Till Association “The Next Step” Conference

Ramkota River Center

Pierre, South Dakota

February 14-15, 2005

 

Please indicate your current occupation.

A.  Farmer                        B.  Agency                              C.  Industry

 

How many years have you had a portion of your land in no-till (farmer) or been involved with no-till (other).

A.         1 – 4 Years                    __________

B.          5 – 8 Years                    __________

C.         9 – 13 Years                  __________

D.         > 13 Years                    __________

E.          Do Not No-Till               __________

 

Age Category

20 – 30 years                        B.  31 – 40 years                      C.  41 – 50 years                   D.  > 50 years

 

If you are a farmer, how many acres do you farm?

A.      < 1,000 acres                         B.  1,001 – 3,000 acres                        C.  3,001 – 5,000 acres

D.      5,001 – 7,000 acres                 E.> 7,000 acres

 

If you currently no-till, rate the following items why you switched or continue to no-till.  A ranking of 1 indicates “High Priority” and a ranking of 5 indicates “Low Priority”.

 

                                                            High Priority                         Neutral                    Low Priority

A.   Profitability                                              1                   2               3               4               5

B.    Time Management                                    1                   2               3               4               5

C.   Erosion Control                                        1                   2               3               4               5

D.   Moisture Management                              1                   2               3               4               5

E.    Water Quality                                           1                   2               3               4               5

F.    Carbon Sequestration                              1                   2               3               4               5

G.   Wildlife                                                    1                   2               3               4               5



Rate the following challenges or obstacles in no-till you face on your farm.  A ranking of 1 indicates “Most Challenging” and a ranking of 5 indicates “Least Challenging”.

 

                                                      Most Challenging                       Neutral                 Least Challenging

A.   Fertility Placement                                    1                   2               3               4               5

B.    Seed Placement                                        1                   2               3               4               5

C.   Crop Rotation                                          1                   2               3               4               5

D.   Weed Management                                   1                   2               3               4               5

E.    Profitability                                              1                   2               3               4               5

F.    Time Management                                    1                   2               3               4               5

G.   Erosion Control                                        1                   2               3               4               5

H.   Moisture Management                              1                   2               3               4               5

I.     Equipment Costs                                     1                   2               3               4               5

J.    Landlord                                                  1                   2               3               4               5

K.   Banker                                                     1                   2               3               4               5

L.    Compaction                                             1                   2               3               4               5



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did you hear of “The Next Step” Conference?

A.                  Neighbor

B.                   Radio

C.                  Mailed Brochure

D.                  Newspaper

E.                   Other_________________

 

What were your top 2 reasons for attending the conference?

A.                  Topics

B.                   Speakers

C.                  Location

D.                  Sponsors

E.                   Other_________________

 

Please rate the following as Excellent (E), Average (A), or Poor (P).

 

Overall, how would you rate the content of the conference?                   _________

 

How would you rate the agenda/format of the conference?                    _________

 

How would you rate the facility? _________

 

Rate the following conference topics as Excellent (E), Average (A), or Poor (P).  If you did not attend a topic please indicate as did not attend.                                                                                                   Rating

A.         The Real Dirt on No-Till – Dr. Jill Clapperton                                            _____________

B.          Tillage Erosion – Dr. David Lobb                                                             _____________

C.         Livestock and No-Till Systems – Gabe Brown & Jay Fuhrer                          _____________

D.         Livestock Panel                                                                                      _____________

E.          Cover Crops – Dr. Shannon Osborne                                                       _____________

F.          Soil Carbon & Greenhouse Gas Emissions Offsets – Dr. Gordon Smith          _____________

G.         Marketing No-Till – Karl Kupers                                                               _____________

H.         Wildlife Aspects of No-till -- Panel                                                              _____________    

I.           Conservation Security Program – NRCS                                                    _____________

J.          Do you “C” what I “C” – Dr. Dwayne Beck                                                            _____________

 

If another conference is held in the future what topic(s) would you like to see receive highest priority?

 

Was the cost of the conference too high?      Yes______     No______

 

Was the time of year appropriate?         Yes________                   No________  (Change to____________)

 

How often would a conference similar to this be beneficial?

A.         Every Year                    _________

B.          Every Other Year           _________

C.         Every Third Year            _________

D.         Never Again                  _________

 

What is your best source of information regarding no-till?  Please rate on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being an excellent source and 5 not used as a source.

 

Other Farmers___________                NRCS_______                                    Cooperative Extension__________

Chemical Rep.___________                 University_______                             Seed Company__________

Ag Chem Retailer________                Ag Equip Retailer_______                  Consultant__________

Ag Journals_____________                  Other_______


 

No-Till: The Next Step

 

 


Pierre Ramkota Convention Center

February 14 & 15, 2005

 

                       

 

February 14th

10:00 a.m.

- 12:00 p.m.

Registration

1:00 p.m.

Opening Remarks –

Doug Luebke, President SDNTA

1:15 p.m.

The Real Dirt on No-Till

Dr. Jill Clapperton, Soil Ecologist, Ag Canada, Lethbridge, Alberta

2:15 p.m.

Long-term Impacts of Tillage Erosion on Productivity

Dr. David Lobb, Soil Scientist, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg

3:15 p.m.

Questions and Answers

Coffee break, visit displays

4:15 p.m.

Integrating Livestock into No-Till Farming Systems

Gabe Brown, Farmer/Rancher
Jay Fuhrer, NRCS – District Conservationist, Bismarck, ND

5:45 p.m.

Supper, Networking, and visit exhibits (included in registration)

6:45 p.m.

Livestock Integration into No-Till Farming Systems

Farmer and speaker panel

February 15th

7:30 a.m.

Breakfast
(Included in registration)
Annual Meeting of SDNTA

8:45 a.m.

Cover Crop:  The Good and The Bad.

Dr. S. Osborne, USDA-ARS NGIRL; Brookings, SD

9:30 a.m.

Soil Carbon and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Offsets

Dr. Gordon Smith, Environmental Resources Trust, Seattle, WA

10:15 a.m.

Break/Displays

11:00 a.m.

Marketing No-Till

Karl Kupers, Harrington, WA

12:00 p.m.

Lunch/Displays
(Included in registration)

1:00 p.m.

Wildlife Aspects of No-Till

Panel Discussion

2:00 p.m.

Conservation Security Program

NRCS

2:30 p.m.

Do you “C” what I “C”?

Dr. Dwayne Beck, Dakota Lakes South Dakota State University



Opening Remarks

 

Doug Luebke

 

 

On behalf of The South Dakota No-Till Association, I would like to welcome you to our winter conference, No-Till: The Next Step. This is the fourth biannual winter conference that the association has hosted in South Dakota.

 

Many of us chose farming because of the variety of activity and challenges it offers.  We do not want to be doing the same thing day after day.  We want changing activities and challenges.  Choosing no-till farming also challenges us.  It continuously evolves as we learn more about how the various facet of nature interact.  There is always something new to examine and consider.  New ideas of others can spur us to try different practices and concepts.

 

The goal of our conference, No-Till the Next Step, is not to provide hard and fast answers, but to ask questions which will direct us in exploring how no-till can be even more productive and profitable and to be accepted as the gold standard of agricultural production.  The conference also affords us the opportunity to visit with other no-till farmers.  We encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences with others during the breaks and informal gatherings.  We hope you find the conference useful and enjoyable.  Please share your comments and suggestions with us.

 

Doug Luebke

SDNTA President

 

 

 

 

The South Dakota No-Till Association is a non-profit state association that is funded by memberships and private sponsors. The board consists of eleven farmers from across the state who all volunteer their time and resources to facilitate the education and promotion of no-till farming practices. For more information log on to www.sdnotill.com.

.


The Real Dirt

 

Dr. Jill Clapperton


Rhizosphere Ecologist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Lethbridge Research Centre
5104 1st Ave S.,
Lethbridge, Alberta, T1J 4B1 Canada. 

Email: Clapperton@agr.gc.ca. 
Phone: (403) 317-2221.

 

 

Soil is much more interesting than dirt! 

You’ll see in this presentation that “when we are standing on the ground, we are really standing on the roof top of another world”.  Living in the soil are plant roots, viruses, bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, mites, nematodes, worms, ants, maggots and other insects and insect larvae (grubs), and larger animals.  Did you know that the number of living organisms below ground (known as soil biota) is often far greater than that above ground?  Together with climate, these organisms are responsible for the decay of organic matter and cycling of both macro- and micro-nutrients back into forms that plants can use.  Soil biota effect soil fertility and hence the primary productivity of the ecosystem that they inhabit, soil biological processes are responsible for approximately 75 percent of the available N and 65 percent of the available P in the soil.  Plants can take-up and use nutrients made available through biological processes more easily and efficiently compared with chemical fertilizers.  Microorganisms like fungi and bacteria use the carbon, nitrogen, and other nutrients in organic matter, while microscopic soil animals like protozoa, amoebae, nematodes, and mites feed on the organic matter, fungi, bacteria, and each other.  These activities stabilize soil aggregates building a better soil habitat and improving soil structure, tilth and productivity.  In agriculture, we modify the soil habitat with tillage and crop rotation practices and so influence the ability of the soil ecosystem to provide essential services such as decomposition and nutrient cycling.  Agricultural practices such as crop rotations and tillage affect the numbers, diversity, and functioning of the soil biota, which in turn affects the establishment, growth, and nutrient content of the crops we grow.  For example, including a perennial forage, or to a lesser extent, an annual forage, in the rotation can enhance soil structural stability, increase soil organic matter - to depth, and increase the number, diversity and activity of most soil organisms.  More importantly, our research has shown that including forages or forage mixtures as cover crops, increases the concentrations of micronutrients and P and Ca in the grain of the following crop.

So let me introduce you to some of the organisms that live in the soil, and how they affect the cycling and availability of nutrients to crops, disease cycles, weed management, and soil.  More detailed examples with mycorrhizal fungi and earthworms will demonstrate the important role of soil biology in improving soil quality and productivity.  I’ll conclude with a discussion of how we can manage soil biological fertility so we get more for less.

 

Managing the soil as a habitat for soil biological fertility

Soil is much more interesting than dirt.  It is a complex inorganic and organic matrix, the habitat for the highly diverse community of microorganisms, soil fauna, and plants, which we learned about in the first session.  Soil biota effect soil fertility and hence the primary productivity of the ecosystem that they inhabit, soil biological processes are responsible for approximately 75 percent of the available N and 65 percent of the available P in the soil.  Plants can take-up and use nutrients made available through biological processes more easily and efficiently compared with chemical fertilisers.  Soil fertility is largely dependent on the processing of organic substrates – residues or soil organic matter (SOM)- through the soil food-web.  Soil biota require the maintenance of a suitable soil habitat, with an adequate quantity and quality of organic matter as an essential food source.  In agriculture, we modify the soil habitat with tillage and crop rotation practices and so influence the ability of the soil ecosystem to provide essential services such as decomposition and nutrient cycling.  This can affect the nutrient quality of the food and forages we produce, and ultimately human and animal health.  This more informal workshop session will explore the use of specific soil and crop management practices that enhance soil biological properties giving us the opportunity to take advantage of soil biological fertility, and augment chemical fertilizer regimes.  So bring a pen and paper, and willingness to participate in the discussion and activities.  You will take home new ideas and a renewed enthusiasm for farming.

 

Dr. Jill Clapperton - Biography

Dr. Jill Clapperton is the Rhizosphere Ecologist at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Lethbridge Research Centre in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. She is an internationally respected lecturer presenting research findings and promoting an understanding of how soil biology and ecology interact with cropping and soil management systems to facilitate long-term soil quality and productivity. Her research group studies soil food webs, nutrient cycling, soil fauna- plant disease and rhizosphere interactions, and soil biodiversity. Presently, the main focus of the Rhizosphere Ecology Research Group is understanding the relationship between soil biological nutrient cycling, plant nutrient uptake and nutrient quality of grains and forage. Jill has a keen interest in promoting science in schools and participates with other researchers and educators to develop soil ecology and agriculture educational programs.  The Worm Watch program (www.wormwatch.ca) Jill developed and initiated was cited by the National Science Teachers Association for excellence in science education.  In 2000, Dr. Clapperton received the Patricia Roberts-Pichette Award for enthusiastic leadership and commitment to advancing ecological monitoring, education and research in Canada.


Long-term Impacts of Tillage Erosion on Productivity

 

David A. Lobb

Department of Soil Science

University of Manitoba

Winnipeg MB R3T 2N2

lobbda@ms.umanitoba.ca

 

 

Introduction

In topographically complex landscapes, tillage erosion causes the progressive downslope movement of soil. Tillage practices which, in time, cause more soil to be moved downslope than upslope result in the loss of soil from upper slope landscape positions and the accumulation of soil in lower slope positions.

 

Tillage erosion is described in terms of tillage erosivity and landscape erodibility. Large, aggressive tillage implements, operated at excessive depths and speeds are more erosive, with more passes resulting in more erosion. Landscapes that are very topographically complex (short, steep, diverging slopes) are more susceptible to tillage erosion.

           

Visual evidence of tillage erosion includes: loss of organic rich topsoil and exposure of subsoil at the summit of ridges and knolls; and undercutting of field boundaries, such as fencelines and terraces, on the down-slope side and burial on the up-slope side.

 


Significance of tillage erosion

The maximum rate of soil loss by tillage erosion observed within topographically complex landscapes is typically between 15 and 150 t ha-1 yr-1 (Lobb et al., 1995; Lobb and Kachanoski, 1999a). Such rates are several times what is considered sustainable for crop production. Tillage erosion has been found to account for the majority of soil loss observed on convex slope positions. Estimates made using resident 137Cs indicate that between 70 and 100% of soil lost on these slope positions is the direct result of tillage erosion (Lobb et al., 1995; Lobb and Kachanoski, 1999a).

 

Using the tillage translocation data of Lobb et al. (1995, 1999), the Tillage Erosion Risk Indicator (TERI) model (Lobb, 1997), 1996 agriculture census data, and landscape data from the National Soil Data Base, King et al. (2000) concluded that approximately 50% of the cropland in the prairies was subjected to unsustainable levels of tillage erosion (Table 1). A similar assessment was made for water erosion by Shelton et al. (2000) and it was found that only approximately 12% of the cropland was subjected to unsustainable levels of water erosion. Within any given piece of cropland, water erosion results in soil losses from approximately 50% of the area (back and foot slopes) and tillage erosion results in soil losses from approximately 25% (shoulder slopes and crests). These studies found that the risk of water erosion and the risk of tillage erosion have decreased between 1981 and 1996. This decrease is due to the adoption of conservation tillage practices. The analyses by King et al. (2000) and by Shelton et al. (2000) were based on the assumption that the area in conservation tillage in 1981 was negligible. The adoption of conservation tillage since 1996 is believed to be minimal; consequently, soil degradation by tillage erosion in the prairies remains widespread.

 

 

Agricultural and environmental implications

Severity and extent of tillage erosion.  Tillage erosion occurs to some degree in all topographically complex cultivated landscapes. Although tillage erosion research has focused on "hilly" landscapes, tillage erosion can also be significant on "flat" landscapes. The Red River Valley, a flat landscape, is topographically complex even though its relief can be less than 2 m in 1,000 m. On such a flat landscape, tillage implements with widths in excess of 20 meters are commonly found. Surface drainage enhances the topographic complexity of these landscapes. The infilling and required regular cleaning of these drains is the consequence of tillage erosion. Tillage erosion can be severe on simple hillslopes that are dissected with terraces, buffer strips, etc. Field boundaries dissect slopes, resulting in soil loss by tillage erosion at the upper slope of each boundary and soil accumulation at the lower slope. The total soil loss on a slope increases by a factor equal to the number of dissections.

 

Tillage erosion occurs under any form of tillage. Consequently, it is possible that unsustainable levels of tillage erosion may exist even when conservation tillage systems are used. The chisel plough and secondary tillage implements such as the tandem disc can be equally as erosive as the mouldboard plough (Lobb et al. 1995, 1999). Even though the mouldboard plough buries more crop residue it was found to result in less net translocation of soil. As long as tillage is used, there is the potential for the severity and aerial extent of this erosion to increase.

 

Impacts on soil-landscape variability.  Tillage translocation and tillage erosion have contrasting effects on the spatial variability of soil. Tillage erosion increases the variability of soil properties within landscapes. As tillage erosion progresses, the properties of the subsoil are expressed on convex areas. In some cases, it is possible to see 'halos' in hilly landscapes where the white/yellow soil material from the C horizon is exposed on the hilltops, the black/brown soil material from the A horizon is exposed at the base of the hills, and the red/brown soil material from the B horizon is exposed on the sides of the hills. Tillage translocation reduces variability by spreading soil over great distances. Soil can be mixed over a length in excess of 3 m per sequence of tillage (Lobb et al., 1995); in fact, McLeod et al. (2000) has shown that a single pass of a cultivator sweep operated at 15 cm depth and 5 km hr-1 can translocate soil as much as 4 m. Sibbesen (1986) demonstrated the significance of the dispersion of soil and its constituents and developed a model to predict the dispersion for long-term small-plot research. The contrasting effects of tillage on spatial variability of soils was recognised by Kachanoski et al. (1985).

 

Impact of tillage erosion on crop production.  Yield losses of 40-50 % have been associated with severely eroded convex landscape positions (Lobb et al., 1995). Assuming that the average annual yield loss on convex slopes is one-half of this value, that this yield loss results from tillage erosion, and that convex slope positions account for about 25 % of the landscape of a region, tillage erosion can be expected to cause about a 5 % annual loss in crop production. Such losses represent tens of millions of dollars in intensive agricultural regions. The increased soil variability caused by tillage erosion results in less efficient use of production inputs and, therefore, increased production costs. Less efficient use of nutrients and pesticides results in increased risk of environmental contamination. Soil losses associated with tillage erosion may be the major cause for the need to manage soil-landscapes variably, i.e. precision farming.

 

Impacts on wind and water erosion.  Tillage erosion can increase soil erosion by wind and water by exposing subsoil that is highly erodible to wind and water. Tillage erosion acts as a delivery mechanism for water erosion, transporting soil to areas of concentrated overland water flow, i.e. rills and convergent landforms. This delivery process has been examined by Lobb and Kachanoski (1999a). Tillage erosion may be more significant than inter-rill erosion as a delivery mechanism for rill erosion.

 

Impacts on other biophysical processes.  Tillage erosion has potential significant impacts on biophysical processes other than crop production and erosion by wind and water. The loss of topsoil that occurs on the upper slope landscape positions and the consequential changes in soil properties affect the hydrology of the landscape. Typically, the infiltration capacity of these eroded soils is reduced resulting in increased overland water flow to lowerslope positions. Furthermore, these eroded soils typically have a reduced water holding capacity. Changes in soil moisture conditions affect changes in soil temperature. In the process of redistributing soil within the landscape, tillage erosion depletes nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen on convex slope positions and accumulates and buries nutrients on concave slope positions. These combined changes can be expected to have significant impacts on biophysical processes such as the production and emission of the greenhouse gasses.

 

Estimation of soil erosion. Changes in the concentration of soil constituents, such as organic matter and resident 137Cs, are commonly used as indicators of soil erosion. However, a decrease in concentration can occur at a specific point in the landscape without a change in soil mass at that point. The concentration of a constituent in the soil translocated into a point by tillage is not necessarily the same as that translocated out from that point. As a consequence of tillage translocation, changes in concentration reflect soil losses at that point and the surrounding area. This phenomenon, its impact on the estimation of soil erosion using 137Cs and improved methods to estimate soil erosion have been described by Lobb et al. (1995), Lobb and Kachanoski (1999b).

 

Soil erosion modelling.  Soil erosion models that do not include the process of tillage erosion do not adequately represent erosion on cultivated land with complex topography. Schumacher et al. (1999) have demonstrated the combined use of water and tillage erosion models. In comparison to wind and water erosion models, tillage erosion models are more universal because the erosive agent is not related to climate.

 

Soil conservation planning and policy.  Preventative and corrective soil loss measures that do not include the reduction of tillage erosion will not be effective in controlling soil loss on convex upper slope positions of cultivated landscapes. Given that it is these areas that are most severely eroded, it would be negligent to ignore tillage erosion. A fully integrated approach to soil conservation is required. Several soil conservation practices are identified below.

 

For the most part, agricultural soil conservation policies and programs have had two primary objectives, to reduce soil losses within farm fields and to reduce sediment delivery from farm fields. Many soil conservation policy and programs, such as the National Soil Conservation Program, have been based on the presumption that the process responsible for off-site sediment delivery (wind and water erosion) is the same erosion process that is responsible for losses in crop productivity; therefore, practices that reduce sediment delivery to acceptable levels should result in sustainable levels of soil erosion within fields. However, where tillage erosion operates within a landscape, unsustainable levels of soil erosion may exist within a field even though acceptable levels of wind and water erosion are achieved.

 

 

Soil conservation practices

The most effective way to arrest tillage erosion and its adverse impacts is to eliminate tillage; however, it is not always possible to do so. Where tillage is necessary, there are several practices that can be used to reduce tillage erosion:

 

Reduce tillage frequency and intensity. All unnecessary tillage operations should be eliminated from a tillage system. Tillage should be done when soil conditions are suitable to avoid correctional tillage. The depth and speed at which a tillage implement is operated affect its intensity and, therefore, its erosivity. Tillage implements should be operated at minimum recommended depths and speeds.


Reduce tillage speed and depth variability.
  Operators should try to maintain a constant tillage depth and tillage speed, even in topographically complex landscapes. To maintain constant operating depth and speed in such landscapes requires more power from a tractor than would be recommended for a specific tillage implement by an equipment manufacturer/dealer. Implements are rated for required horsepower assuming that they will be operated on level ground. Operation in excess of recommended depth and speed results in greater translocation variability, and, consequently, results in greater tillage erosion.

 

Reduce the size of tillage implements.  The larger the implement is relative to landform size, the more rapid the landscape is levelled. Tillage implements that are very long and/or very wide should be avoided on landscapes that are highly erodible to tillage.

 

Use less erosive tillage patterns.         Where possible, tillage should be conducted along the contour of the landscape. This will reduce the variation in tillage depth and speed and, consequently, reduce tillage erosion. Where tillage is conducted on the contour, a reversible or rollover mouldboard plough can be used to throw the furrow upslope on every tillage pass, leaving a back-furrow on the uppermost slope position. Moving soil upslope with the mouldboard plough offsets the progressive downslope movement of soil by other implements in the tillage system (Mech and Free, 1942). Reversible and rollover ploughs are not commonly used. Farmers who use these one-way ploughs typically throw the furrow downslope to leave a smoother surface for subsequent field operations and to reduce draught requirements. However, this is not always the case; farmers who have recognised that tillage causes their topsoil to accumulate at the bottom of slopes regularly, if not always, throw the furrow upslope. Some farmers have been observed to take a more aggressive approach; ploughing on an angle to the contour to throw the furrow directly up the slope. However, ploughing on an angle to the contour will reduce the effectiveness of plough ridges in controlling overland water flow and water erosion. Ploughing on an angle to the contour may be necessary on steep slopes. Mech and Free (1942) noted that difficulties may be experienced turning furrows upslope while contour tillage if slope gradients exceed 17%.

 

Restore severely degraded land.         Where it is feasible, areas that are severely degraded by tillage erosion should be restored by returning the topsoil that has accumulated in slope concavities. This should be followed by the implementation of practices to reduce tillage erosion. The Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario (Aspinall, 1997) and the Chinook Area Research Association (CARA,1996) have evaluated this restoration practice and have found it to be an effective method of regaining lost crop production potential. In Europe in the 1940s, Lowdermilk (1953) observed the common practice of hauling topsoil from the base of slopes back to the top "to compensate for the downslope movement of soil under the action of ploughing".

 

 

References

Aspinall, J.D., 1997. Remediation of an eroded knoll in southwestern Ontario. J. Soil Water Conserv. 52, 308.

CARA, 1996. Reclamation of eroded knolls. Chinook Applied Research Association. Project Report. 17: 1-5.

Kachanoski, R.G. Rolston, D.E., deJong, E., 1985. Spatial variability of a cultivated soil as affected by past and present microtopography. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 49, 1082-1087.

King, D.J., Cossette, J.M., Eilers, R.G., Grant, B.A., Lobb, D.A., Padbury, G.A., Rees, H.W., Shelton, I.J., Tajek, J., Wall, G.J., van Vliet, L.J.P., 2000. Risk of tillage erosion. In: Environmental health of Canadian agroecosystems. T. McRae, Smith, S., Gregorich, L.J. (eds) Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Ottawa. pp. 77-83.

Lobb, D.A., 1997. Tillage erosion risk indicator: Methodology and progress report. Agri-Environmental Indicator Project. AAFC. Ottawa. 9 p.

Lobb, D.A., Kachanoski, R.G., 1999a. Modelling tillage erosion on the topographically complex landscapes of southwestern Ontario. Soil Till. Res. 51, 261-277.

Lobb, D.A., Kachanoski, R.G., 1999b. Modelling tillage translocation using step, linear-plateau and exponential functions. Soil Till. Res. 51, 317-330.

Lobb, D.A., Kachanoski, R.G., Miller, M.H., 1999. Tillage translocation and tillage erosion in the complex upland landscapes of southwestern Ontario. Soil Till. Res. 51, 189-209.

Lobb, D.A., Kachanoski, R.G., Miller, M.H., 1995. Tillage translocation and tillage erosion on shoulder slope landscape positions measured using 137Cs as a tracer. Can. J. Soil Sci. 75, 211-218.

Lowdermilk, W.C., 1953. Conquest of the land through 7000 years. USDA. Soil Conservation Service. Bulletin No. 99. Washington D.C. 30 p.

McLeod, C.J., Lobb, D.A., Chen, Y., 2000. The relationships between tillage translocation, tillage depth and draught for sweeps. In: Proceedings of 43rd Annual MSSS Meeting. MSSS, Winnipeg. pp. 195-199.

Mech, S.J., Free, G.R., 1942. Movement of soil during tillage operations. Agr. Eng. 23, 379-382.

Schumacher, T.E., Lindstrom, M.J., Schumacher, J.A., Lemme, G.D., 1999. Modeling spatial variation in productivity due to tillage and water erosion. Soil Till. Res. 51, 331-339.

Shelton, I.J., Wall, G.J., Cossette, J.M., Eilers, R.G., Grant, B.A., King, D.J., Padbury, G.A., Rees, H.W., Tajek, J., van Vliet, L.J.P., 2000. Risk of water erosion. In: Environmental health of Canadian agroecosystems. T. McRae, Smith, S., Gregorich, L.J. (eds). AAFC. Ottawa. pp. 59-67.

Sibbesen, E., 1986. Soil movement in long-term field experiments. Plant Soil. 91, 73-85.

 

Table 1. Risk of tillage erosion on Canadian cropland in 1981 and 1996

 

Province§

 

Cropland

(106 ha)

Proportion of cropland (%) in various risk classes

Tolerable

 

Low

 

Moderate

 

High

 

Severe

 

1981

1996

1981

1996

1981

1996

1981

1996

1981

1996

B.C.

0.5

30

50

42

36

28

14

<1

0

0

0

Alberta

10.6

47

62

24

19

26

19

3

0

0

0

Saskatchewan

18.8

29

35

14

19

52

46

5

0

0

0

Manitoba

4.9

22

44

53

38

24

18

1

0

0

0

Ontario

3.4

33

41

21

35

43

24

3

<1

0

0

Quebec

1.6

68

75

21

16

11

9

0

0

0

0

New Brunswick

0.1

33

38

26

32

32

21

3

8

6

1

Nova Scotia

0.1

40

66

52

28

8

6

0

0

0

0

P.E.I.

0.1

50

50

29

30

10

10

11

10

0

0

Canada

40.1

35

46

23

23

38

31

4

<1

<1

0

includes seeded and summer fallow (tilled but not seeded); Tolerable (sustainable) < 6 t ha-1 yr-1; Low = 6-11 t ha-1 yr-1; Moderate = 11-22 t ha-1 yr-1; High = 22-33 t ha-1 yr-1; Severe > 33 t ha-1 yr-1; § Newfoundland excluded based on the small area of cropland; average values for 1981 and 1996

 

Figure 1. A landscape in the prairie region that is severely eroded by tillage erosion. In the foreground, note the calcareous subsoil tilled to the surface where it will be incorporated into the surface layer.


Dr. David Lobb - Biography

I grew up on a cash crop farm in southwestern Ontario.  In 1978 my father, Donald Lobb, transformed the farm from conventional tillage to no-till.  He retained two sets of comparison strips that remain to this day.  In the years that followed, my father made several other changes, such as introducing windbreaks, grassed waterways, native vegetation, to enhance the sustainability of the farm. 

 

I received my BSc in Biophysical Systems from the University of Toronto in 1987 and went on to attain my MSc and PhD in Soil Science with specialization in soil and water conservation from the University of Guelph. While completing my degrees I worked in Atlantic Canada at the Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre and the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture.  For the last 5 years I have been a professor at the University of Manitoba.

 

Much of my work over the past decade has been the extension of research to the agriculture industry and government.  In particular, I have enjoyed the many challenges of delivering agricultural research to the farming community by developing educational materials, participating in on-farm demonstration projects and making numerous presentations. My research to date has focused primarily on tillage, specifically, on tillage translocation and tillage erosion processes.  However, I maintain an active interest in soil conservation practices. 

Dr. David A. Lobb joined the Department of Soil Science in January 1999. Training includes a B.Sc. in Biophysical Systems from the University of Toronto (1987), a M.Sc. (1991), and a Ph.D. (1998) in Soil Science from the University of Guelph.

Current Research Interests

v      Soil redistribution within landscapes and its impact on biophysical processes that affect agriculture and the environment.

v      Restoration of severely eroded landscapes

v      Tillage systems and their impacts on biophysical processes that affect agriculture and the environment.

v      Agri-environmental indicators.

v      Soil-landscape variability: causes, characterization and management (precision-farming).


Integrating Livestock into No-Till Farming Systems

 

Gabe Brown
 Farmer/Rancher
Bismarck, ND


Jay Fuhrer
 NRCS – District Conservationist
 Bismarck, ND

 

 

Integrating Livestock into No-Till Farming Systems

Brown’s Gelbvieh Ranch is a purebred cow/calf operation located adjacent to I-94 in central North Dakota, two miles east of Bismarck. Gabe, Shelly, Kelly, and Paul have an open-minded philosophy, a willingness to try innovative practices and a dedication to being good land stewards.  These qualities have earned the Browns the respect of their fellow cattlemen.

 

After purchasing the ranch, Gabe and Shelly decided their first priority would be to improve soil health.  Gabe is adamant that a successful ranch starts with healthy soils.  “We needed to increase organic matter in our soils and enhance the biological activity within the soil.  To do this, we knew we had to manage our range and cropland with this goal in mind.”

 

The Browns have worked hard to develop a planned grazing system that has both increased the bottom line of the ranch and paid great dividends to the environment.  Gabe says it is a labor of love though; it gives my family great satisfaction to know that we are having a positive impact on the environment.

 

The Browns have increased their total number of pastures from the original three to thirty-eight. This level of management has allowed the Browns to maximize pasture recovery time.  The native rangeland has flourished - desirable grasses and forbs are abundant.  Gabe and son, Paul, are careful to graze a pasture less than 28 days total in a year.  Many are grazed less than 14 days in a year.  Some pastures are grazed once a year, some twice, some for as short as three days, some as long as 28 although never over 14 days at one time.  It is totally dependent on the growth of the forage in the pastures.  Careful monitoring is critical.  They also rotate the time of year each pasture is grazed.  “We want to insure the health of all desirable plant species in each pasture, both warm and cool season,” Gabe explains.  “Also we make sure to stockpile grass in several pastures each year.  This is our insurance policy if a drought occurs.”

 

Marginal cropland was seeded back to tame grasses in 1993.  Although the stand was good, production did not flourish due to low nutrient cycling, specifically the availability of nitrogen.  Soil tests showed less than four pounds per acre. Gabe and Shelly searched for information regarding what varieties of legumes could be interseeded into this tame grass.  Our goals for adding legumes were as follows:

v      Supply grasses with nitrogen to boost plant vigor and forage production;

v      Increase forage protein content to benefit herd health and rate of gain;

v      Add more residue to the soil surface to increase infiltration, maximize efficient use of soil moisture, and cool soil temperatures;

v      Create a deeper root zone to increase nutrient cycling;

v      Increase wildlife habitat


The tame grass/legume pastures on the Brown Ranch are unique to this region and many tours of this system are given each year.  The Browns truly enjoy sharing their experiences with others.

 

Recently the Browns added to their tame grass system by purchasing 120 acres that was previously in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  They added a well, installed a shallow pipeline, water tanks, and built perimeter and cross fences to make six tame grass pastures from this 120 acres of former cropland.  Although the opportunity existed to re-enroll this land into CRP, Gabe is confident he can make a higher return on investment by grazing the land.  Gabe feels proper grazing management will stimulate forage production and have a positive impact on soil health and wildlife.  He looks forward to collecting data on this tract.  “I have several neighbors interested in seeing if grazing expired CRP is profitable.  This unit will compliment our native pastures extremely well,” says Gabe. 

 

Gabe has the same beliefs in his cropping system as he has in his grazing system.  “I knew that the organic matter had been mined from the soils over the past 100 years.  We had soils testing less than 2% organic matter.  Today, through zero-till and crop rotations, which include legumes, we have increased organic matter in the soils to over 4% in some fields,” Gabe explains.

 

Livestock are used as a tool to manage the cropping systems and increase soil health. The rotation evolves around crop diversity which includes legumes, forages, companion crops, and cover crops. Ground litter is constant; as crops are removed, a companion crop or cover crop takes its place. Maintaining ground litter is becoming more challenging as soil health improves. The livestock increase the cropping system profitability by managing the residue in the fall.

 

A strong promoter of zero-till, which Gabe has practiced since 1994, he credits zero till for increasing worm populations and other micro and macro organisms in the soil.  This, along with increased organic matter and litter on the soil surface, means healthier soils, increased water infiltration, and more efficient water utilization, creating a positive impact to the environment.

 

Wildlife diversity and population numbers have also increased dramatically with the grazing system and zero-till cropping system. The Browns carefully consider and include wildlife in all of their management practices. The Browns take great pride in the fact that although they are located only two miles from the city limits of Bismarck, wildlife is not only abundant, it flourishes. Today, Ringneck Pheasant, Sharptail Grouse, Hungarian Partridge, Canada Geese, many different species of ducks, a wide array of songbirds as well as several species of raptors make their home on the ranch. Whitetail deer abound and it is not uncommon to see over 20 of them any given day on just the home section. Many other smaller mammals such as mink, weasel, raccoons, coyotes, and fox abound as well.

 

By practicing the philosophy of using livestock as a tool to improve natural resources, the Browns are insuring the continued viability of the operation for ourselves, our children and future generations.


Gabe Brown - Biography

Gabe and Shelly Brown own and operate Brown’s Gelbvieh Ranch, located 5 miles east of Bismarck, ND.  The  Brown’s have two children, Kelly and Paul.  They purchased the ranch in 1991 and built a 250 head purebred cow operation.

 

Gabe attended Bismarck State College and graduated from North Dakota State University in 1983. Obtaining an Animal Science degree and  Agricultural Economics minor.

 

The Brown’s started working toward a sustainable cropping system, after purchasing a no-till drill in 1994.  Gabe enjoys exploring legumes that can be used in both his livestock grazing system and the no-till cropping system, using soil health as the fertility indicator. 

 

Gabe has been a Burleigh County Soil Conservation District supervisor since 1999 and presently serves on the North Dakota Private Grazing Lands Coalition mentor list.  Gabe’s hobbies include hunting, reading, and spending time with his family.

 

Jay D. Fuhrer - Biography

Jay is a graduate of North Dakota State University, in Agricultural Economics.  He started a career with NRCS in 1980; past North Dakota work locations include; Crosby, Mohall, Dickinson and Bismarck.

 

Soil Health is emphasized for cropping and grazing systems, when working with farmers and ranchers.  Information and education activities utilize farmer and rancher speakers, for summer no-till cropping system and grazing system tours, and winter workshops.

 

Working with Gabe Brown and the Brown Gelbvieh Ranch toward soil health and sustainability has been, and continues to be, a rewarding career highlight.

 


Cover Crop:  The Good and The Bad

 

S.L. Osborne1, W.E. Riedell1, T.E. Schumacher2, and D.S. Humburg2

 

1USDA-ARS,
Northern Grain Insect Research Laboratory

2923 Medary Ave, Brookings, SD 57006

2South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD 57007

(605) 693-5234

sosborne@ngirl.ars.usda.gov

 

Introduction

A sustainable agricultural system is one that, over the long term: enhances environmental quality and the resource base on which agriculture depends; provides for basic human food and fiber needs; is economically viable; and enhances the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole (White et al., 1994).  Both large and small farmers are seeking sustainable cropping systems that will provide consistent returns for their efforts and investment (Clegg and Francis, 1994).  Increased diversity of crops grown in rotation and no-till farming practices are important components of sustainable agriculture systems.  This is because crops grown in rotation have greater yield than when grown in monoculture (Dick et al., 1986; Mannering and Griffith, 1981; Higgs et al., 1990) and that soil loss to wind and water erosion is reduced when land is farmed under no-till systems (Moldenhauer and Mielke, 1995).   

Many of the advantages of no-till crop production are derived from the residue mulch that remains on the soil surface after grain harvest.  The residue mulch protects the soil from wind and water erosion but also delays soil warming in the spring (Swan et al., 1996).  Cooler soil temperatures translate into slower seed germination, reduced uptake of non-mobile soil nutrients, and less vigorous early crop growth (Barber, 1984; Griffith and Wollenhaupt, 1994).  Under no-till conditions, Drury et al. (1999) found that fall-seeded cover crops (red clover) planted after wheat harvest allowed the following corn crop to have emergence and yield equal to that of a corn crop following wheat under tilled conditions.  In contrast, Raimbault et al. (1990) found that grain yields were consistently lower under no-till treatments as compared with tilled treatments when the corn crop followed a cover crop (winter rye), but that there were no tillage effects on yield in the absence of cover crops.  These contrasting results suggest that cover crops add an extra dimension of complexity and uncertainty to the no-till component of sustainable agriculture, causing both no-till and cover crops to be viewed as risky practices by some producers.  A more comprehensive understanding of soil and crop specific responses to crop rotation, tillage/residue management practices, and cover crops is critical to understanding and improving economies of production (Reeves, 1994).

Meisinger et al. (1991) outlined the importance of cover crops in improving environmental quality.  Cover crops scavenge nitrogen from the soil profile and prevent it from moving below the root zone during periods of time when the soil water is being recharged.  Under tilled conditions, cover crops also help protect the soil from water and wind erosion.  Hatfield and Keeney (1994) outlined some of the knowledge gaps in cover crop use that need to be addressed through research.  They concluded that development of cover crop systems for climates with short growing seasons and/or low water availability was a priority.  Research to identify additional cover crops that fix nitrogen or have other economic benefits was also identified as a priority.  Additional information on the fate of nitrogen recovered or fixed by the cover crop is needed to ensure that cover crop decomposition and mineralization are synchronized with the N requirement of the subsequent crop (Meisinger et al., 1991).  The objective of this study was to evaluate the impact of cover crops in no-till conditions on corn yield and quality compared to a conventional tilled system without cover crops.

 

Approach

A field experiment was conducted in which different species (or subspecies) of grasses and legumes (planted into spring wheat stubble) were evaluated as cover crops in a three year rotation (soybean/spring wheat-cover crop/corn) under no-tillage soil management.  The experiment is located near Brookings, South Dakota on a silty clay loam at the USDA, ARS, Northern Grain Insects Research Laboratory.  Treatments included cover crops (14 different cover crops), no-till fallow (no cover crop) and conventional tillage treatments which were replicated four times within the experimental area.  Cover crop species evaluated included (common names):  crimson clover, alsike clover, red cover, sweet clover, annual ryegrass, winter rye, hairy vetch, carneval field pea, Austrian winter pea, slender wheatgrass, non-dormant alfalfa, sudangrass, buckwheat and barley.  All cover crops were planted in early August (following spring wheat harvest) at recommended seeding rates for cover crop use.  The following spring all plots were planted to corn.  The corn phase of the rotation was planted on 29 May, 2001; 6 June 2002 and 12 June 2003.  

Soil samples were collected prior to the first cover crop planting. The 0-24 inch samples was be separated into 0 – 6, 6 – 12 and 12 – 24 inch increments before initial soil physical and chemical conditions were measured.  During the course of the experiment, data collection included growing environment (soil temperature, soil moisture, rainfall, and air temperature, soil physical properties (soil bearing strength, bulk density, water content at planting, and vane shear strength), total cover crop growth, corn emergence and growth (stand counts and phenology), and corn grain yield and quality (protein and oil content).  For the purposes of this proceeding only data from the 2003 growing season will be discussed in respect to soil temperature and stand establishment.  Cumulative soil growing degree days was calculated by summing the daily soil growing degree day calculated with the following equations:

 

Daily Soil GDD(Base 10) =

 

 

Results and Conclusions

One of the biggest concerns with no-till production practices is stand establishment due to unfavorable soil conditions (excess soil moisture and/or cooler soil temperatures) at the time of planting.  Soil temperature was collected every half hour from approximately the beginning of May until the beginning of July at a soil depth of 1.5 inches.  Cumulative soil growing degree days (Cº) were calculated for each treatment for the 15 days following corn planting (Figure 1).  Cumulative soil growing degree days obtained for the 2003 growing season found that only five of the cover crop treatments had significantly lower soil temperatures compared to the conventional tillage.  Cover crops that over-winter and produce significant ground cover and above ground biomass (alfalfa, alsike clover, hairy vetch, sweet clover and red clover) significantly reduced spring temperatures.  Cover crop species that over-wintered and produced significant above ground growth, but which grew in an upright manner (did not form a mat over the soil surface) showed similar spring soil temperatures compared to the conventional tillage. A visual illustration of the differences in growth characteristic is illustrated in Figure 2.  The sweet clover on the left form a thick mat completely covering the soil surface compared to the vertical growth of the slender wheatgrass on the right.  Species that did not over-winter and the no-till fallow (no cover crop) treatments did not significantly reduce spring soil temperature compared to the conventional tillage.

Stand counts for corn were performed to evaluate the effect of spring soil temperature on stand establishment.  Data is reported for cover crop species that significantly decreased spring soil temperature and the conventional tillage treatment (Figure 3).  Initial stand counts revealed that emergence was significantly delayed for corn planted into these treatments (alfalfa, alsike clover, hairy vetch, sweet clover and red clover).  The conventional tillage treatment reached full emergence (16 plants / 10 ft row) a week after planting (19 June) while the remaining species took an additional week to reach their maximum emergence.  In contrast, stand counts for 19 June showed that corn emergence beneath the five cover crop treatments were less then 50% of the maximum emergence.  Final emergence counts for the five cover treatments were significantly less than the conventional tillage treatment.

Corn grain yield is expressed as a percent of the conventional tillage or no-till fallow (no cover crop) grain yield to visually illustrate the impact on yield due to the different cover crop treatments compared to conventional management practices (Figure 4 and 5).  Grain yield was higher for all cover crop treatments (significantly higher for all except buckwheat, annual ryegrass, winter ryegrass, slender wheatgrass and red clover) compared to the conventional tillage treatment in 2002 due to extremely dry conditions during the growing season (Figure 4).  No-till soil management increases soil moisture retention, thus resulting in increased yield compared to conventional tillage during that year.  Corn yield was significantly reduced by the presence of alsike and sweet clover compared to the conventional tillage and no-till fallow treatments in 2003 (Figure 4 and 5).  Similarly the conventional tillage treatment had significantly lower yields compared to the no-till fallow (no cover crop) treatment during the dry growing season of 2002 (Figure 5).

Grain quality was evaluated by determining protein and oil concentration.  There were no significant differences in protein or oil concentration for the 2001 growing season, and no significant differences in oil for 2002.  Protein content was significantly affected in 2002 and 2003 (Table 1).  Corn following spring legumes including alsike clover, sweet clover and hairy vetch had a tendency to have higher grain protein and oil concentration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 1. Grain protein and oil concentration analysis of variance by growing season, Brookings, SD 2000-2003.

                                                     ------------------------------Mean Square------------------------------

Source             df                          2001                            2002                            2003

                                                      ---------------------------------Protein----------------------------------

Rep                   3                         0.1347                         0.0845                         0.2691

Cover Crop    15                         0.1677                         0.1339 *                       0.8783 **

Error               45                         0.1247                         0.0724                         0.1078

                                                       ------------------------------------Oil------------------------------------

Rep                   3                         0.0560                         0.0480                         0.0219

Cover Crop    15                         0.0212                         0.0137                         0.3168 **

Error               45                         0.0285                         0.0179                         0.0365

**, * - significant at the 0.01 and 0.05 probability levels, respectively; df - degree of freedom

No-till soil management has the potential to preserve soil moisture, decrease soil erosion and increase yield compared to conventional tillage systems.  However incorporating cover crops adds an additional management factor that if not managed properly can decrease the following cash crop yield as illustrated in stand establishment and corn yield differences obtained in this experiment.  No-till management increased corn yield in 2002 regardless of the cover crop utilized due to extremely dry periods within the growing season.  In contrast in 2003 the presence of some cover crops significantly delayed stand establishment but not all had a negative impact on corn yield.  Proper management and choice of cover crop species are important considerations when including cover crops into current production systems.  

 

References

Barber, S.A. 1984. Soil Nutrient Bioavailability: A Mechanistic Approach. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, NY.

Clegg M.D. and C.A. Francis. 1994. Crop management. p. 135-156. In: J.L. Hatfield and D.L. Karlen (eds) Sustainable Agricultural Systems, CRC Press, Boca Raton FL.

Dick, W.A., D.M. Van Doren, G.N. Triplett, and J.E. Henry. 1986. Influence of long-term tillage and rotation combinations on crop yields and selected soil parameters. Research Bulletin 1180, Ohio Agric. Res. and Dev. Center, Ohio State University.

Drury, C.F., C.-S. Tan, T.W. Welacky, T.O. Oloya, A.S. Hamill, and S.E. Weaver. 1999. Red clover and tillage influence on soil temperature, water content, and corn emergence. Agron. J. 91:101-108.

Griffith, D.R., and N.C. Wollenhaupt. 1994. Crop residue management strategies for the midwest. p. 15-37. In: J.L. Hatfield and B.A. Stewart (eds.) Crop Residue Management.  Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL.

Hatfield, J.L., and D.R. Keeney. 1994. Challenges for the 21st century. p. 287-307. In: J.L. Hatfield and B.A. Stewart (eds.) Crop Residue Management.  Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL.

Higgs, R.L., A.E. Peterson, and W.H. Paulson. 1990. Crop rotation: Sustainable and profitable. J. Soil Water Cons. 45:68-70.

Mannering, J.V., and D.R. Griffith. 1981. Value of crop rotation under various tillage systems. Agronomy Guide AY-230, Cooperative Extension Service, Purdue University, West Lafayette IN.

Meisinger, J.J., W.L. Hargrove, R.L. Mikkelsen, J.R. Williams, and V.W. Benson. 1991. Effects of cover crops on groundwater quality. p. 57-68. In: W.L. Hargrove (ed.) Cover Crops for Clean Water. Soil and Water Conservation Society. Ankeny, IA.

Moldenhauer, W.C., and L.N. Mielke. 1995. Introduction: Why the emphasis on crop residue management. p. 1. In W.C. Moldenhauer and L.N. Mielke (eds.) Crop residue management to reduce erosion and improve soil quality: North Central. USDA, NRCS, CRR-42.

Raimbault, B.A., T.J. Vyn, and M. Tollenaar. 1990. Corn response to rye cover crop management and spring tillage systems. Agron. J. 82:1088-1093.

Reeves, D.W. 1994. Cover crops and rotation. p 125-172. In: J.L. Hatfield and B.A. Stewart (eds.) Crops Residue Management. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL.

Swan, J.B., T.C. Kaspar, and D.C. Erbach. 1996. Seed-row residue management for corn establishment in the northern US corn belt. Soil Till. Res. 40:55-72.

White, D.C., J.B. Braden, and R.H. Hornbaker. 1994. Economics of sustainable agriculture. p. 229-260. In: J.L. Hatfield and D.L. Karlen (eds) Sustainable Agricultural Systems, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Figure 1. Cumulative soil growing degree days for 15 days following corn planting, Brookings, SD, 2003.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Figure 2. Above ground biomass growth for sweet clover (left) and slender wheatgrass (right) photographed 15 May, 2003.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Figure 3. Stand establishment counts, number of plants emerged in ten feet of row, for treatments in which soil growing degree days were significantly less then conventional tillage, Brookings, SD 2003. (12 June planting date)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Figure 4. Corn yield expressed as a percent of the conventional tillage (CT) treatment for all cover crops and no-till fallow (no cover crop) treatment, Brookings, SD, 2001-2003.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Figure 5. Corn yield expressed as a percent of the no-till fallow (no cover crop) treatment for all cover crops and conventional tillage treatment, Brookings, SD, 2001-2003.

 

 

Shannon L. Osborne – Biography

Education:

           Ph. D     University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska

                               Dissertation Chair:           Dr. J.S. Schepers

                               Major Field:                      Soil Fertility and Plant Nutrition

                               Minor Field:                      Biometry

                               Date:                               December 1999

           M.S.       Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma

                               Thesis Chair:                    Dr. W.R. Raun

                               Major Field:                      Soil Fertility

                               Date:                               May 1996

           B.S.        Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma

                               Major Advisor:                  Dr. S.R. Henneberry

                               Major Field:                      Agricultural Economics-Int. Marketing

                               Date:                               December 1994

 

Current Employment:

 

January 2000 – present: Research Agronomist, USDA/ARS, Northern Grain Insects Research Laboratory, Brookings, South Dakota. Responsibilities: plan, design and implement applied and basic field plot, greenhouse, laboratory and on-farm research relating to the understanding of crop rotations, tillage, residue management, cover crops and soil fertility impact on crop production and soil productivity; the effects of spatial variation and distribution of soil chemical and physical properties on crop growth and yield; the identification of alternative crops and production methods for integration into existing crop systems; develop cooperative research programs, with ARS, university, and industry scientists.


Soil Carbon and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Offsets:
An Economic Opportunity for Great Plains No-Tillers?

 

 

Gordon R. Smith, Ph.D.

Director, EcoLands Program

Environmental Resources Trust

13047 12th Avenue

 Seattle, WA  98177-4108

 

voice: 206.784.0209;  fax: 206.784.9662

  email: gsmith@ert.net

 

 

 

Greenhouse Emissions

Greenhouse gases act like a blanket around the earth, trapping some of the heat we get from the sun.  This greenhouse effect is essential to life on earth, keeping us from being frigid like the moon.  Human activity has been increasing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and warming the earth’s climate.  If the trend continues it will cause climate change that disrupts human activities.  The exact degree to which observed warming is the result of human activity versus natural processes is not known.  But it is known that human activities are causing as significant proportion of the warming that is occurring.  In the 20th century, global temperatures increased by an average of about 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit.  Scientists estimate that changes greater than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit would cause changes in climate that would be very disruptive to life as we know it.  This change does not sound like much, but the temperature rise would be enough to change what crops could be grown in many locations, and would cause a 2-6 foot rise in sea level with flooding of coastal areas, weakening or loss of the Gulf Stream, and increased intensity of storms.  Warming is greater than average in the arctic and in the interiors of continents.

 

Climate modeling indicates that limiting temperature rises to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit requires limit atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to about 450 parts per million.  Prior to industrialization, before about 1800, the concentration was about 280 parts per million.  As of year 2000 the concentration was about 370 parts per million, and rising at about 1.5 parts per million per year.

 

There are several gases that cause greenhouse warming.  The largest volume if emissions and largest warming effect come from carbon dioxide.  Other greenhouse gases that come from agricultural activities are methane and nitrous oxide.

 

Current global carbon dioxide emissions are in the range of 29 billion metric tons per year.  Limiting the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to 450 parts per million would require reducing emissions by more than 20 billion tons per year.  If emission reductions are not started now, an even more precipitous drop in emissions will be needed in a couple decades to avoid significant warming.  The potential market for emission mitigation is huge, if we were to choose to avoid climate-changing warming.

 

Currently, total U.S. emissions of all greenhouse gases are about 7 billion metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent per year.  U.S. emissions are rising at about 1% per year.  In the U.S., agricultural activities result in more than 500 million metric tons CO2 equivalent of emissions, with about 60% of this warming effect from nitrous oxide from nitrogen fertilizer.  Nearly a quarter is from methane from farm animals.

 

Emission Offsets

Emission offsets can be use to mitigate emissions, such as emissions from burning coal in a power plant to generate electricity.  Offsets can be generated in one location and used to mitigate emissions from another location because greenhouse gases mix in the atmosphere.  To count as an offset, mitigation must have several attributes.  An offset must have the following attributes:

 

v      Net reduction in emission or removal of GHG from atmosphere

v      An unused portion of an emission allowance under an emission cap, or in the absence of a cap must be mitigation that would not have happened otherwise (additional)

v      Reliably quantified

v      Owned by the seller (direct)

v      Verified by an independent party

 

Offsets may be reversible.  For example, when carbon is sequestered in soil by switching from plowing to no-till, that carbon comes from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The sequestration can be reversed by resuming plowing.  If an offset is based on something that is reversible, the continued existence of the offset must be monitored.  Emission reductions are irreversible—you can not go back in time and emit more.  Emissions can increase later.  This could mean that no new emission reductions are generated, but it would not emit tons that were not emitted in earlier years.

 

There are several changes in agricultural practices that can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.  Mitigation can be reducing emissions or taking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.  Some changes in agricultural practices that reduce emissions are:

 

v      Precision nitrogen fertilizer use reduces N2O

v      Fuel use reductions lower CO2 emissions

v      Reduce irrigation power use

v      Changes in livestock management reduce CH4

v      Biofuel reduces use of CO2-intensive fossil fuels

 

Some changes in agricultural practices that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere are:

 

v      No or low tillage

v      Increase residue

v      Winter cover crops

v      No summer fallow

v      Improved grazing practices

v      Vegetation buffers

v      Convert marginal  agricultural land to grassland or forest

 

On a per-acre basis, rates of generation of offsets are generally modest.  Rates vary by practices and conditions.  Generally, rates range from less than one tenth of a ton carbon dioxide equivalent per acre per year, to about a ton per acre per year.  Growing trees can sequester a few tons per acre per year.  For a local example, modeling predicts that, in Hughes County South Dakota, doing dry land farming on a silt-loam soil with a rotation of spring wheat, small grain, mechanical fallow, switching from intensive tillage to no-till would sequester 0.18 tons carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

 

Several practices change the equilibrium conditions of lands, and generate new mitigation as the land is approaching the new equilibrium.  For example, when switching from plowing to no-till, without any other changes, the soil organic matter content rises and then stabilizes at a new, higher proportion.  Sequestration is occurring as the rate is rising, and then the sequestered carbon remains stored as long as the organic matter content remains higher.

 

Changing agricultural practices to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions can have several other environmental and economic benefits, including:

 

v      Improve soil quality

v      Improve water quality/decrease erosion & leaching

v      Improve wildlife habitat

v      Leverage conservation funds

 

Some changes that have a greenhouse benefit sometimes cause negative effects on air quality.  For example, if more nitrogen is applied to soil to increase plant growth and speed carbon sequestration, that can cause increased emission of oxides of nitrogen, which are air pollutants.

 

The Current Market for Greenhouse Offsets

Currently, for most facilities in the U.S., there are no limits on greenhouse gas emissions.  As a result there is little demand for offsets in the U.S.  Some companies are reducing emissions voluntarily.  Most companies that are reducing emissions are taking internal actions to reduce their own emissions, but some are purchasing emission offsets.  The volume of purchases is low—a few million tons carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

 

The market for greenhouse emission offsets is growing rapidly in Europe because Kyoto Protocol limits on greenhouse gas emissions are coming into effect.  Trading is up to about 10 million tons per week within the European system, and expected to continue growing.  Offset prices are down because governments have given emitters very high emission caps, so fewer companies think they will need offsets.  Recent prices in the European market, for certified offsets, were in the range of $9 per ton carbon dioxide equivalent.

 

 

Amounts of Offsets which Farmers Might Sell

Many agricultural producers are interested in earning revenue by selling greenhouse gas emission offsets.  At the same time, most producers are reluctant to make permanent commitments not to plow.  This concern can be accommodated by renting offsets for a specified time period, rather than selling them.  Rented offsets must be replaced at the termination of the rental, or counted as an emission.  The buyer must factor in the cost of replacing the offset at the end of the rental period.  For this reason, rentals are valued less than permanent offsets.

 

Another factor that reduces prices paid for offsets is advance payment.  Many landowners want to be paid in advance for offsets that will not be generated for several years.  Financial asset accounting methods can be used to calculate what might be a fair price for rental of offsets.  The calculations become somewhat complicated when the amount of offsets changes over time, the duration of the rental is different for different tons, and the payment is made in advance.  An example illustrates possible payments.  In the example given here it is assumed that:

 

v      The price of  permanent offsets does not change over time

v      Annual interest rate = 6%

v      Constant sequestration of 0.5 MgCO2/ac/yr (in 10 years, 5 tons would be stored)

v      One time, up-front rental payment for all sequestration and storage for life of project

v      No discount for uncertainty, performance risk, leakage, or non-additionality

 

Given these assumptions, the up-front payments for sequestration would be as shown in the following table.  Payment amounts are given for 5, 10, or 15 year rentals, and for prices of $5, $10, and $15 per ton carbon dioxide equivalent. 

$/ton CO2

5 year term

10 year term

15 year term

$5

 $1.82

 $5.54

 $10.09

$10

 $3.64

 $11.09

 $20.18

$15

 $5.47

 $16.63

 $30.27

 

A farmer would have to choose whether or not the commitment of not plowing is worth a payment of this size.  Farmers may wish to choose annual payments, where the obligation is only for one year.  Annual rentals are a fraction of the price of a permanent offset, just as the annual rental price of an acre of farm land is a fraction of the price of buying that land.

 

Farmers may wish to sell permanent offsets, such as emission reductions from reduced fuel use resulting from switching from plowing to no-till.  In terms of tons of carbon dioxide per acre per year, the amounts are small, but the reductions are permanent and require no ongoing monitoring.

 

A common question is whether farmers who have been no-tilling for several years can rent or sell offsets based on the sequestration they have achieved over their years of no-tilling.  We believe that, because farmers often stop no-tilling, continuing to practice no-till is—in part—an action that is in addition to what would have happened in the absence of a greenhouse gas emission offset project.  Recall that to count as an offset, an mitigation must (among other things) be either an unused portion of an emission allowance under an emission cap, or (if there is no emission cap) be mitigation that would not have happened except for the project.

 

When a farmer in an emission offset project commits to continuing to use no-till practices, to the extent that other farmers who were no-tilling switch out of no-till, the farmer who continues no-tilling is doing something over and above what others are doing.  The amount of mitigation that is additional to what would have occurred without the project, and the average behavior of others not in greenhouse project but with similar starting conditions provides a measure of what would have occurred otherwise.  With this calculation methodology, there are two parts of the equation: the amount of carbon not released, and the proportion of this amount that counts as additional and thus can qualify as an offset.  Doing the math using a national average rate at which farmers are observed to be stopping no-tilling, if a farmer has been no-tilling for five years or more them may be able to substantiate more offsets per acre than a farmer who is just starting no-tilling.

 

These methods for calculating the additionality of tons stored prior to starting an emission offset project are not well understood.  Further discussion and education within the greenhouse gas emission offset community is needed before these methods will be generally accepted.

 

The Offset Buyer’s Perspective

In the absence of a cap on emissions, companies buy offsets for a variety of reasons.  Reasons include:

 

v      Voluntary GHG commitments

v      Acquire low-cost mitigation credits for long-term risk management

v      Comply with contractual or regulatory requirements

v      “First-mover” advantage in GHG credit market

v      Competitive advantage in marketing

v      Public relations

 

Emitters can create or acquire emission mitigation from a variety of sources.  Agricultural producers are just one of many sources of offsets.  Many offsets are bought by electric utilities, to mitigate emissions from power plants.  Some other mitigation options for electric utilities are:

 

v      Fuel Switch from Coal to Natural Gas

v      Heat Rate Improvements

v      Biomass Co-Firing

v      Distribution Efficiency Improvements

v      Environmental Dispatch

v      Demand Side Management

v      Install Renewable Generation

v      Landfill Methane

v      Biological Sequestration

v      CO2 Removal/Disposal from stack gases

 

If an electricity producer chooses to buy offsets on the market, offsets produced by farmers are just one supply source of many.  When considering generating and selling offsets from agriculture, both buyers and sellers should consider the cost of generating offsets by other methods.  The graph below gives one utility company’s estimate of its costs of creating or buying offsets different kinds of offsets.  Many buyers will first obtain lower cost offsets, and then move to higher cost offsets as larger quantities are needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Several barriers exist which hinder the creation and sale of greenhouse gas emission offsets generated by changing agricultural practices.  On the supply side barriers include:

 

v      Standards not established and accepted for: measurement precision, baselines, additionality, leakage, permanence

v      Measurement & verification – few providers of services

v      Few qualified aggregators

v      Producers not familiar with offsets

v      Producers adverse to long-term commitments

v      High transaction costs relative to value of offsets

 

Barriers to agricultural offsets also exist on the demand side:

 

v      Weak demand in U.S. voluntary system

v      Buyers not familiar with agriculture

v      Buyers prefer irreversible offsets

v      Buyers not use asset pricing to value offsets

v      Some agricultural offsets are expensive

 

A key aspect of building sales of greenhouse gas emission offsets from agriculture is establishing aggregators that can bring together mitigation from many farmers.  Aggregators are required to bring together many tons so measurement and verification costs can be spread across a large number of tons.  Also, by pooling tons from many farmers, aggregators can spread risk, making higher quality offsets.

 

Organizations that already have a relationship with farmers are better positioned to be aggregators.  Having an existing relationship with farmers can reduce the transaction costs of establishing and managing contracts with individual farmers.  Organizations such as crop marketing cooperatives are particularly well positioned to become aggregators.

 

Conclusions

In summary, several changes in land management practices can both create greenhouse gas emission offsets and provide farmers financial returns.  However, revenue from greenhouse gas emission offsets is likely to be modest relative to revenue from crops.  As a result, emission mitigation practices must be compatible with continuing to earn the bulk of revenue from crops.

 

Some of the most promising opportunities for creating greenhouse emission offsets are:

 

v      Tree planting

v      No-till

Ø       Sell fuel reductions

Ø       Rent soil sequestration

v      Fertilizer management

v      Pasture management

v      Irrigation management

 

For the foreseeable future, voluntary demand means low prices for offsets.  Offsets from agriculture compete in the market with offsets from other sources.  Many agricultural offsets are lower cost than some other types of offsets, providing opportunity for agriculture.  Producer organizations are well positioned to aggregate and market offsets generated by farmers.

 

A challenge to marketing agricultural offsets is developing broader understanding that offsets generated by continuing no-till are additional to what would happen in the absence of emission offset projects.

                                                  

Gordon R. Smith - Biography

Gordon R. Smith is Director of the EcoLands Program of the Environmental Resources Trust (ERT).  ERT is a national not-for-profit organization with the mission of developing markets that improve the environment.  A focus of Dr. Smith's work with ERT is measurement and verification of greenhouse gas emission offsets generated by changing land management.  ERT also audits measurements performed by others, and advises project developers.  Dr. Smith's work includes researching and testing tools for reliable and cost-effective measurement of greenhouse gas offsets. He has authored scientific and professional publications on measuring forest and soil carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas offset accounting, and ecological management of forests.  He has also worked on developing trading mechanisms for water pollution reductions, joint production of timber and non-timber forest products, and development of Forest Stewardship Council guidelines for certification of sustainable forest management.  Dr. Smith has a Ph.D. in Forest Management from the University of Washington, and a Master of Public Policy from Harvard University.  He is an active alpinist and chair of the Rigging Committee of Seattle Mountain Rescue.


Marketing No-Till

 

Karl Kupers

Marketing Director

Shepherd’s Grain

Harrington, WA

 

History:

v      Sequence of events leading to today

v      Conservationist in my youth

v      Diversified farmer by desire

v      No-tiller by accident

v      Educated no-tiller after visit to Dakota Lakes Farm

v      Practicing no-tiller

v      Developer of Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association

Ø       Author of carbon sequestration lease agreement 2002

v      Quit farming after 31 years

v      Marketer of No-till crops

Ø       Final frontier of advancing no-till

 

Future:

v      Regional marketing

v      3rd party verified

v      Transparent pricing

 

How to get there:

v      Be committed to production process for yours and future generations sustainability

v      Recognize societies desires for cleaner air and cleaner water

v      Use regulators funding when applicable

v      Match your regional market desires to what you are already doing

v      Form a group and play the local, family, sustainable and even the oh poor me farmer card

v      Honesty, integrity and relationships

v      Market your process

 


Karl Kupers – Hirst Farms[1]* - Biography

Background: (initial strategy, evolution of strategy and enterprise structure, dynamics and resources involved in getting started; amount of start-up capital required?)

Hirst Farms is a 5680 acre grain farm in the low rainfall (11-12 inches per year) region of Lincoln County, Washington. Karl Kupers joined his father working on the farm in 1973. Area agriculture is characterized primarily by dryland winter wheat / summer fallow cropping systems and beef cow/calf ranching.

In the mid- 1990’s, out of concern for soil health and sustainability, Karl used a SARE Farmer Research grant to begin experimenting with alternative crops and direct-seed cropping systems on a 40 acre test plot. He has also been involved in on-farm cropping systems trials with WSU Extension and the Wilke Research Farm (alternative dryland cropping systems trials). He gradually translated these practices to the entire farm. The entire agricultural infrastructure of Lincoln County emphasizes the production, export and marketing of wheat. So, along the transition to more sustainable production systems, Karl recognized that he had to develop a complementary marketing strategy. In order to capture value and market share through his commitment to sustainability, Karl became the first Food Alliance certified grain grower. Food Alliance certification and market development efforts facilitated his marketing of grain direct to food processors, such as artisan bakeries. Another way that Karl is marketing the sustainability of his farm is through the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association. PDSA has entered a carbon credit lease agreement with Entergy (southern energy utility) for carbon sequestered through direct-seed cropping systems.

Karl is becoming widely recognized and respected for his efforts to improve the sustainability of dryland grain farming. He was profiled in SARE’s The New American Farmer publication.

Organizational form / scale / leadership: (nature & legal form of the enterprise, number of members, capitalization and other major financial indicators, amount of product, leadership & decision-making structures, changes over time and reasons for changes)

Karl, like his father, has always leased the farmland from landowners that are between 3 and 5 generations removed from the farm. While these landlords take pride in their farming heritage, none of them have technical expertise in farming. Karl has taken the initiative to maintain transparency with his landlords and to keep them informed about agricultural sustainability and how he is trying to make their land and the farming more sustainable. Consequently, his landlords have supported his decisions to pursue alternative production and marketing systems. Recently, Karl purchased 1200 acres he had been leasing to keep it in production.

In addition to building the sustainability of the land, Karl promised the landlords that he would work out a transition of the farm to another farmer on their behalf. In early 2000, Karl brought in Jim Hirst to begin the farm transition. After three years of working together, Jim took over fiscal and operational responsibility of the farm and is now the leaseholder. Attorneys and accountants had questioned whether such a “non-family” transition on leased land would work, but Karl says he and Jim hit it off well and the transition actually came together more quickly than expected. Karl is now acting as the “tractor driver” and the marketer for the grains and specialty crops.

To facilitate the marketing of crops, Karl has established a Limited Liability Company called Columbia Plateau Producers with 11 other farmers in the region. They market their grain as processed flour under the label “Shepherd’s Grain”.

Nature of products and the “value chain”: 

Karl has broken out of the rut of winter wheat / summer fallow monoculture that dominates Lincoln County. He has shifted to alternative crops, such as perennial grasses mixes for forage and CRP, safflower, sunflower, canola, and mustard – all produced in direct-seed cropping systems. Karl’s primary crop is still wheat.

The key difference that Karl’s new marketing strategy has created for his “value chain” is that he now considers himself a flour producer and not a wheat producer. Marketing flour as your end product requires a completely different mindset and financial strategy. For instance, as a wheat grower, Karl used to be paid for delivering wheat to the depot, but payments for flour are spread out over the course of the year as the wheat is milled into flour. In addition, direct marketing of a value-added product instead of a commodity has shifted the burden of production from quantity to quality. As a commodity wheat producer Karl says it’s “yield, yield, yield – quality be damned.” But when you are direct-marketing a value-added end product like flour, you are very concerned and take the extra steps to insure the quality of your product.

As is the key for many new successful marketing strategies, Karl’s value chain is based on trust and relationship marketing. Karl credits Food Alliance certification and partnership with opening many doors for marketing his product, but the onus of making the sale is still on him. He is learning that patience and persistence are critical qualities for successful relationship marketing.

Economics of the Enterprise:

Karl claims to earn 10 – 12% more than other grain farmers in the area. He believes that the additional costs associated with innovation are more than offset by the premiums received from direct marketing. He also believes that the greatest economic benefits will be in the future, when the improved fertility caused by his new production systems will improve productivity. Direct-seeding and crop rotations have already significantly increased the value of and created a demand for the land that he leases.

Currently, Karl direct markets approximately 50% of his products. His goal is to have 100% of his crop contracted to direct markets before it is planted.

Key opportunities & challenges engaged:

The challenges of farming sustainably in the dryer regions of Eastern Washington have usually outweighed the opportunities. Karl has demonstrated that making sustainability the goal of a farm is dependent on continual learning, discovery and persistence. He notes that we can make things work if we get out of the rut of ‘the way things are done.’

The greatest challenge and opportunity Karl faces is figuring out how to fit all of the elements of sustainability that he has learned and is learning into a comprehensive package and how to help other people understand this. Directseeding, carbon sequestration, crop rotations, land tenure, Food Alliance certification and relationship marketing are all pieces of the much larger picture of sustainability. None of them alone is “the answer” to challenges of farming. As enough of the pieces come together in a package, there is great potential for improving the sustainability of agriculture. Each of the pieces complements the others and learning how to see these complementarities is a key to success. Recently, Karl has been thinking about how to link sustainability all the way through the value chain of a product. As other units of the food system, such as dairy farms, food processors and retailers, begin to value sustainability, it makes sense to link them together to capture “life-cycle” sustainability of a product. With this in mind, Karl has encouraged other links in his value chain to become Food Alliance certified – so that there is third party verification of sustainability from seed to consumer.

In addition to packaging sustainability, Karl is learning about the importance of different concerns consumers have about the products they buy. When he started direct marketing flour, he believed that his target market was the “green” market. However, he has discovered that “local” is trumping every other concern in marketing. Shepherd’s Grain products have been wildly successful in Spokane, Washington – an Eastern Washington community not known for concern about environmental issues. But the proximity of Spokane to the Columbia Plateau Producers LLC has seemingly been the key. The issue of ‘what is local’ is definitely changing with improved technologies, though – and that has also had an impact on Karl’s success. He can now sit on his porch with his cellular phone, wireless laptop and digital camera and talk with a buyer 300 miles away in Portland, Oregon – and for Karl that is still his local community. He is now beginning to test how far his “local community” stretches.

Another challenge and opportunity that Karl thinks is important is breaking out of the monoculture of winter wheat / summer fallow. While there are certainly barriers to production in the low, winter-fed precipitation area of Eastern Washington, Karl thinks that there are opportunities special to the region, including proximity to large markets and the “benign” climate. The cities of Seattle and Portland proper are home to 2.64 million consumers – approximately $800 million dollars of baked good sales each year. When someone claims that the market will be flooded if other farmers try to direct market, Karl claims he’s more than willing to share! Another opportunity that Karl sees is the fact that they don’t experience dramatic climatic shifts in Lincoln County. A sever drought might cut production by 25%, a hailstorm might clip the corner of the field and there is never a flood event too severe to farm - even mild climatic shifts can devastate production in the Midwest or Canada. Karl believes that in a benign environment like Eastern Washington, farmers can produce products of more consistent quality and quantity than anywhere else in the world, which is critical to developing direct markets.

Replicability in other settings:

Karl urges caution to other area farmers that are interested in direct-seeding, because not all of the problems have been worked out. Direct-seeding failed in the area already, when they tried it in a monoculture of wheat without crop rotations. He believes you have to be absolutely convinced about it, and that you need to be in good financial condition, because you will see yield drags in your first few years. He also says that while direct-seeding is a great weed management strategy in the long term, weed problems can quickly ruin a transition.

Regarding the direct marketing of the grain and flour, Karl says that it takes persistence, patience, and the ability to get out of traditional mindsets (both for the grower and the potential buyer). Progress has been slower than Karl expected, in spite of reports from buyers that he has been wildly successful in his marketing efforts. He feels there is still a lot to be learned and the need to coordinate multiple direct marketing efforts between different types of farmers and ranchers. For instance, Karl believes both he and Oregon Country Beef could both benefit from each other’s insight and promotion of the other’s products when they are dealing with buyers.

Research, education/demonstration, or policy changes:

In terms of production research, Karl encourages continued research on direct-seed systems and viable crops for the region. He comments that WSU and ARS have made strides in that they are screening all of their most recent research through direct-seed systems. He would like to see more varietal development, especially for alternative crops.

He also appreciates research concerned with packaging the elements of sustainability, such as work on the potential of carbon sequestration, the visionary establishment of Food Alliance, and case studies on successes and failures of direct marketing.


Conservation Security Program

 

Jason Miller

Conservation Agronomist

USDA-NRCS

 

jason.miller@sd.usda.gov



Do You “C” What I “C”?

 

Dr. Dwayne Beck

Dakota Lakes Research Farm

South Dakota State University

 

PO Box 2

Pierre, SD  57501

(605) 224-6357

 

dwayne.beck@sdstate.edu

www.dakotalakes.com**



[1] In 2002, Karl transitioned the management and responsibility of his farm to Jim Hirst.  Jim is now the leaseholder and makes fiscal and operational decisions.