No-till and cover crops improve soil health, but benefits of these cropping methods also reach the pocketbook. During a panel discussion at the UW Discovery Farms Annual Conference held in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., three farmers shared their experiences with no-till, cover crops, and planting green (planting into existing cover crops).
The first panelist, Adam Lasch from Lake Geneva, Wis., explained that farms can utilize these practices without making a huge investment. He and his wife operate a first generation dairy, beef, sheep, and laying hen operation, and they use no-till on all of their 200 acres.
“You do not have to have fancy equipment to no-till and plant green,” he said, sharing photos of the old machinery he adapted and uses.
He is also a firm believer in the planting green concept. “I am of the opinion it is harder to plant no-till than it is to plant with covers. Covers make the no-till work better,” he said.
Lasch also shared some forage quality numbers from the crops grown on these acres, demonstrating that quality feed for their dairy herd could be grown at a lower cost.
Derek Van De Hey, who farms with his father and two brothers in DePere, Wis., talked about what his family calls their “Million Dollar Plan.” The Van De Heys milk 950 cows, raise 850 young stock, and crop 2,500 acres. In 2007, they planted their first cover crop as an inexpensive forage source for heifers. Today, they do as much no-till and cover cropping as possible to reduce their carbon footprint and improve soil quality.
With fewer inputs and better soil health, Van De Hey estimates they will be able to save a million dollars in less than 10 years. “Lowering inputs means more money in the pocket,” he said. “The less money you spend, the less money you have to make.”
The third panelist was Tony Peirick, who farms with his brother and their sons at T & R Dairy in Watertown, Wis., They milk 200 cows, run 1,100 acres, and do some custom planting, spraying, and harvesting. They have been using no-till for 24 years, implemented cover crops 10 years ago, and have been planting green for the past three years.
Peirick said that he’s not a numbers guy, but he recognizes the benefits of these practices. “It’s amazing what you see year in and year out, and I like what I see,” he said.
He has noticed better weed and soybean cyst nematode suppression, along with less white mold in their soybeans. The soil has better water infiltration and improved moisture retention in dry years. And over the years, input costs have been reduced.
While the benefits of no-till, cover crops, and planting green are many for these producers, the financial benefits — in the form of reduced costs — are definitely a plus for the bottom line.