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Advice from farmers

I got a call recently from a hometown farmer in west-central Iowa, who responded to my February “Think Different” column and told me our magazine is not too progressive. After we reminisced about our black-field, moldboard-plow youths of the late 1960s/early 1970s, he told me his move to no-till several decades ago was his best decision ever. “You should see our fields handle water so much better than our excessive-till neighbors.”

He also made an excellent point about buried residue and decomposition. “Ask a farmer where a wood fence post rots off. It’s always at the surface, where soil biology works the fastest. It’s like when the old moldboard plow used to bring back up old corncobs still in good condition.”

Well said.

Then an Ohio farmer emailed his “somewhat disagreement” about CSD being too progressive. He used to no-till, but now makes one fall pass and plants into that spring seedbed. His residue breakdown analogy was a suggestion that I swallow applesauce along with a whole apple, and then report back to him when I determine which was processed most rapidly. He stated, “No-till is like leaving the apple on the counter and expecting your stomach bacteria to digest it.”

Hmm, I’ll let you judge that.

“Will sustainability work?” January column

This topic continues to drive discussion. An Indiana farmer wants CSD to “keep highlighting the farmers that are improving the soil of this great country. I have large farms in this area that post on Facebook and their website that they are all about soil health and sustainability, but in reality they are doing nothing for soil health and only say that to be politically correct. Thank you for promoting conservation, and keep up the good work.”

Another Iowa farmer email: “Sustainability is NOT possible if tillage is included in a production system! The destruction of tillage can be masked with ever-increasing inputs and improved plant genetics for a while, but eventually the piper must be paid.”

Finally, an Illinois farmer wrote that he sees no problems because “Sustainability has been working here for at least three generations. The soil has never been so nutrient-rich, nor has it contained so much organic material and humus. Landowners are building conservation structures at a rapid pace. Yields of crops like wheat, corn and soybeans continue to climb.

"Also, no millennial who I know is yet capable of telling me how to farm, nor how to be accountable, nor for that matter how to implement technology to prove best management practices. Neither is General Mills, for that matter. Thanks for the sanctimonious little pep talk.”

People occupy different realities, as a farmer told me last month. I sincerely thank you for reading, for viewing more valuable content on, for subscribing to our newsletters and for being willing to Think Different.

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