Farm Progress

Learning how to better use technology to improve the productivity and sustainability of Kansas farms is young farmer’s goal.

Walt Davis 1, Editor

August 18, 2017

3 Min Read
TALKING SOIL HEALTH: Tyler Labenz, resource soil scientist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (left), talks about indicators of healthy soil while Todd Miller with Kauffman Seeds examines the roots present in a chunk of soil from Marvin Miller’s cover crop field.

Marvin Miller has roots in Kansas agriculture. But he grew up in Paraguay, where his father worked for much of his childhood, and he dreamed of someday becoming a farmer.

About five years ago, when he was only 18, his family came back to Kansas and he had a chance to live his dream on the family farm that has been in his mother’s family for decades.

On Aug. 3, he entertained regional farmers who are part of the Cheney Lake Watershed for a field day to spell out what he has been able to achieve on his initial farming effort to increase the productivity and sustainability of his family’s land.

The property toured on the August field day had been heavily tilled until Miller took over in 2012.

“The first year I tried growing soybeans in the same system that had been used in the past,” he said. “It was a disaster.”

He said that he began researching soil productivity and soil health and came across many articles and presentations on no-till farming from pioneers, including Gabe Brown and Dave Brandt.

YOUNG FARMER: Marvin Miller says he is learning year to year as he adopts a combination of no-till and cover crop farming on land that had been heavily tilled for 50 years before he started farming it just three years ago.

He ran some tests on his soil and discovered that it had an incredibly high pH of 8.2, thanks to the limestone pebbles that were incorporated in his soil profile.

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He fertilized with manure and planted a cover crop mixture, including sudan, millet, sunflower, brassica and other plants, that was 10 to 12 feet tall in the fall of 2016. He said he terminated that cover crop and planted wheat in the fall.

This year, he harvested wheat that made 50 bushels to the acre in spite of estimates of loss to freeze damage of 30% to 50%.

“Soil samples last month show that my organic matter increased from 2.4% in 2014 to 3.4% a month ago,” he said. “The pH is down to 7.8.”

This year, he planted a cover crop mixture of 10 species, including sudan, millet, cow peas, forage soybeans, buckwheat and more ahead of planting the field back to wheat. Despite hot, dry conditions with temperatures in the 100s and less than a half-inch of rain by Aug, 3, the cover crops were up and growing.

COVER CROPS: Marvin Miller planted a 10-crop mixture into the stubble of his 2017 wheat crop in late June. Despite hot, dry conditions, the crops were up and growing by a field day on Aug. 3.

He plans to terminate that crop, likely with herbicides, and plant wheat in the fall of 2017.

“I am not yet at the point where I’m comfortable trying a fall crop,” he said. “I don’t have that much to lose with wheat. I will get there. I’m still learning. I know continuous wheat isn’t the best idea, but I am taking it kind of slow.”

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