In 2012, Adam Simon found himself on the farm that was once his grandfathers. The fields that had once been lush crop fields and pasture for a small dairy farm operation had turned into black, hard, unusable soil. Gullies had formed causing ravines big enough to trap planters. His crops were not thriving like he hoped, and the extreme dry-then-wet weather of that growing season was not helping. He knew something had to change.
Adam, from Webster, Minnesota, started searching for alternative farming practices in 2014 to start controlling the increasing sheet and rill and ephemeral erosion and compaction problems on his fields. The land now owned by Adam had been worked to the bone by continuous tillage year after year. He began working with Andy Porupsky, Resource Conservationist from the Scott SWCD office, and together the two worked out a plan to install four different grassed waterways spanning over 4100 feet. The grassed waterways would catch the excess water and reduce his wide-spreading ephemeral gully erosion. Over time, this establishes suitable vegetation to convey excess runoff. Once he saw the success of his waterways, Adam started researching. He combed through youtube videos and online farming forums, and educated himself on different farming practices that promoted soil health. Adam experimented and modified a little bit every year to see what worked and didn’t work on any particular field.
To help fix his sheet and rill erosion, Adam adapted contour farming into his practice as well. By using contour farming, and planting crops perpendicular to slopes, and following the natural contours of the land, erosion patterns are broken and the flow of water can be captured and slowed much more easily. He planted his first season of cover crops in 2016 with NRCS’s EQIP sign up. In 2018, he tried out cover crops again with the SWCD, fall seeding 16.6 acres using a mix of cereal rye and oats into soybeans. He noticed almost immediately how much easier it was to work the soil. He saw so much success that he increased his cover crop acreage to 88.6 this year. As it continues to work, Adam will continue to expand.
Adam’s experimenting has changed the way he looks at farming. On a memorable spring morning last year, Adam recalled walking out to his field after a two inch rain event. He wanted to see what the massive dumping of water had done to his soil. Back in 2012, if he would have grabbed a handful after such a rain, it would have felt like molding clay: wet, heavy and sticky. But when he picked up a clump of dirt last spring, the soil fell to the ground in perfect cottage cheese clumps: light, airy, and full of nutrients. It was just one more example that proved all his efforts were making a difference in his soil health. The evidence was right in front of his eyes.
Adam spent part of this last growing season converting his conventional John Deer 7000 6 row corn planter into a no-till planter. He added things like heavy duty seed openers, Martin-Till Row Cleaners, spiked closing wheels, drag chains, and modified his fertilizer distributer until his planter did exactly what he wanted. As a result, he was able to seed beans at 90,000 per acre. “A farmer’s best tool is his planter,” says Adam, and when considering how foundational soil health is to good crop yield, he’s right. No-tilling leaves plant matter on fields, and allows soil structure to stay intact. This increases soils ability to absorb and infiltrate water which in turn reduces soil erosion and runoff. No-tilling has saved Adam countless hours in his operation, no longer needing to spend the time working his field, or repairing his tillage equipment. He’s also noticed the money saved by reducing his fertilizer rates and fuel bill. It’s a positive, compounding effect. With his planter newly modified, Adam is hoping to compare how much time he saves next year compared to his previous. Adam loves the ever-changing experiment that is farming. He lives for new techniques, and revels in the challenges that his land gives him.
He’s dedicated his time educating his friends and other farmers on the benefits of adopting conservation farming practices. “Experiment and have an open mind. 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. Planting cover crops into beans, for example, a heartier crop then corn and one that will tolerate Minnesota’s cold more readily. “Don’t be afraid to take things one step at a time, and remember to have an open mind.”
What drives him most of all, however, is his family. Adam lives in Webster with his wife, Danielle, and his two children, Rylan and Mikaela. He wants to leave a long-lasting legacy for his children. “Think about what you’re leaving your kids,” he says. “We have to leave something good for them. Everyone can do something to make that happen.”