In 2014, Belle Plaine producer Brian Entinger found himself on a farm transformed. His fields that had once been lush cropland and pasture for a corn, soybean, and alfalfa rotation were decimated by historic floods. Gullies had formed causing ravines big enough to trap planters. His topsoil ran downstream, stripping his fields of nutrients. He knew something had to change.
Entinger, who’s been working his family’s fields for 32 years now, began talking with his cousin and fellow farmer on what could be done to save and restore their soil. Both men began researching a practice called “strip till”. Entinger had heard of this alternative technique that kept soil on the ground better than conventional tillage, but neither him nor his cousin had any experience with it.
“After that flooding, I knew I had to try something,” Entinger said when considering the risks of changing up his farming operation.
Old vs. New
Conventional tillage turns over the top layer of soil, which can leave it vulnerable to wind and water erosion. Strip-till involves leaving most crop residue on fields, tilling only small rows or “strips” where the crop will be planted. Less disturbance of the soil leaves less opportunity for erosion. No-till goes one step further and tills none of the land, planting crop seeds directly into last years residue. Entinger uses both methods when appropriate. No-till and strip-till are two forms of sustainable agriculture, which are techniques producers can use to make their operation more environmentally sustainable, efficient, and long-lasting.
“It’s been a game changer.” Entinger says. We started by testing the technique on a couple fields, and slowly built up our acreage. We’ve now been one hundred percent strip-till on our corn for three years.” Entinger manages 1,050 acres of cropland in Scott County.
Strip-tilling and no-tilling has saved Entinger countless hours in his operation, no longer needing to spend as much time working his fields or repairing his tillage equipment. In addition to strip-tilling, Entinger also no-till’s his soybeans and implements another conservation practice called variable rate application (VRA). VRA uses GPS and soil analysis of fields to determine how much fertilizer is needed in specific areas instead of using one rate for an entire field. This both saves him money when purchasing the necessary supplies, and keeps excess nutrients out of local lakes, rivers, and streams.
He’s especially noticed the money saved by reducing his fertilizer rates by over 30% and his reduced fuel bill as well. It’s a positive, compounding effect.
When asked what drove him to stick with this technique, Entinger said, “we need to keep the land happy. It took three or four years before I noticed my soil getting healthier. But if you give it time, it will replenish.”
Entinger’s spends his downtime attending soil health meetings and doing his own research to make sure he stays up to date on the latest information. “You have to keep experimenting. We learn something new every year! And don’t be afraid to talk to other people. No matter your operation, there is something out there that will work for you,” he says. He insists there are small, easy changes that farmers can make that will mitigate risks. “I learn something new every year. That’s part of the fun of it.”
Entinger’s improvements with soil health have been assisted by the Scott SWCD). If you are a producer who is interested in implementing soil health practices on your operation, the Scott SWCD can help. As demonstrated, there are many ways to enhance farm sustainability, and many ways to see mutually beneficial success.
The Scott SWCD offers technical assistance, designs, and cost share for people interested in incorporating conservation practices, contact our office at 952-492-5425 to get started.