Have A Happy Holiday’s from CTIC

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 8.24.55 AMConservation Technology Information Center would like to wish you a happy holidays and invite you to the 6th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture, June 22-25, 2014.

Attend the 6th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture (WCCA) to learn, discuss and network about Soil Health and Wallet Wealth. Agricultural production systems are not sustainable unless they are profitable, and Conservation Agriculture (CA) holds the key to building and maintaining healthy soils and profitable farming systems.

Monsanto Part of CTIC Conservation Efforts

ctic-13-emilio-oyarzabalMonsanto was one of the sponsors on the recent Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., and Chuck caught up with the company’s Emilio Oyarzabal, who said the CTIC’s work is very important to Monsanto and its customers.

“We need agriculture more than ever,” Emilio said, but he added that farmers are being accused of doing environmental damage. “If we observe the problem and see how we can fix this, conservation is one way to make your farm sustainable and deflect that criticism.”

Emilio said Monsanto is right on the forefront of that environmental charge, working on how to double crop yields and decrease the inputs by a third… not an easy task.

“Biotechnology is a tool, but not the only tool. We need to make a paradigm shift in what we do in agriculture,” suggesting new crop rotations and different ways of using fertilizers, just to name a few ideas. “We need to think in different ways.”

He went on to say that precision farming tools are helping farmers adopt better practices, while companies are providing the better tools farmers need.

Listen to Chuck’s interview with Emilio here: Emilio Oyarzabal, Monsanto

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Investing in Illinois Soil’s Wealth

ctic-13-jean-payne“The wealth of Illinois is in her soil, and her strength lies in its intelligent development.” That quote was from one of the first presidents of the University of Illinois almost 200 years, but attendees of the recent Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., heard it reiterated by Jean Payne, President of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, who spoke at one of the tour dinners.

She says, while many recognize the need for good investment in that great natural resource, the recent economic troubles of Illinois has ended up cutting any state funding to nurture that investment. Rather than relying on the government, members of Jean’s group decided they’d take their own fate in their own hands and not be dragged down by what went on with the politicians.

“Are we going to let this tremendous [ag] industry get sucked down the vacuum that is becoming our state government? I said ‘No!’”

They went to other ag groups, including the Farm Bureau, corn and soybean growers, pork producers and Syngenta Crop Protection, and they were able to raise support for research. Eventually, they talked the Illinois legislature into letting them put together their own fertilizer checkoff that the groups, not the state, would manage. Now, they’re able to collect $2.5 million each year that they can use to be good stewards of the land.

“Despite the fact that we have a vacuum in our state government, I feel phenomenal about where our Illinois agriculture stands with our nutrient stewardship efforts. And it’s only going to get better,” Jean said.

She said they’ll need to keep working to educate people about the need for the checkoff and the dividends it pays on that investment.

“We have had to fight for this, [but] everything in life worth having is worth fighting for.”

Listen to Jean’s remarks to the CTIC group here: Jean Payne, President of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Corn Growers Adopting New Conservation Practices

Dan Cole NCGAThe National Corn Growers Association is very supportive of the work of the Conservation Technology Information Council. That certainly makes sense as corn farmers have a strong desire to better manage their land in a sustainable way.

During the 2013 Conservation in Action Tour, Dan Cole, corn grower (left in photo) and member of the NCGA Production & Stewardship Action Team (PSAT), was on hand along with other growers to see the projects being worked on in the Indian Creek Watershed. NCGA sponsored the first tour stop at the Bachtold Farm which focused on soil health.

You can listen to my interview with Dan here: Interview with Dan Cole

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Stabilizing Nitrogen Important for Conservation Tillage

2013 CTIC TourI want to say a big thanks to Koch Agronomic Services for being the sponsor of our coverage of the 2013 Conservation in Action Tour again this year. During the tour I visited with Greg Schwab, Director of Agronomy. He says that some of the products they make help farmers do conservation tillage. One of the challenges is maintaining the fertilizer nitrogen that you apply which can be lost as a gas. That’s where their product AGROTAIN plays a role since it is a nitrogen stabilizer. There are a number of research plots that we saw during the tour in the Indian Creek Watershed.

You can listen to my interview with Greg here: Interview with Greg Schwab

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Case IH’s Long History with CTIC

ctic-13-alan-forbesCase IH has a long history with the Conservation Technology Information Center, so it just makes sense that they were an overall sponsor and sponsored dinner one evening during the tour in Livingston County, Ill., at Rooster Heaven, a hunting club near the Vermilion River. Chuck caught up with Alan Forbes with Case IH, who serves on the CTIC board and explained why his company has been so involved with the group for the past 30 years.

“Really, they just have a culture and attitude of conservation that really fits what we believe in at Case IH when it comes to preserving the water, the air, natural resources. Culturally, it fits us.”

Alan says the Indian Creek watershed project, which looks to address preventing runoff into the area’s creeks and rivers, represents a best-in-class initiative for conservation.

“Lots of people talk conservation about what we could do, what we should do, but here producers are putting together real-world initiatives that are providing benefits, not only in the watershed, but some of the best practices witnessed here are being exported nationwide and across North America. It’s a real good effort and it’s something that Case IH is happy to be a part of,” he said.

Alan added that Case IH’s push into precision farming equipment falls in line with this whole conservation theme, helping farmers make sure they have the right inputs in the right quantities in the right places. And the CTIC tour expands that into making sure those inputs STAY where they are needed.

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Alan here: Interview with Alan Forbes, Case IH

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Farmers Want to Save Nitrogen, Too!

ctic-13-tim-smithContrary to what seems to be reported many times, farmers don’t want to see their field nutrients washed on down the river to contribute to some “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Farmers don’t want nitrogen to leave their fields. They want it in their corn crop,” explained Tim Smith during the recent Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill. Tim is a managing agronomist for Cropsmith and a Certified Crop Adviser. He also used to work for the University of Illinois developing ways to improve nitrogen use efficiency in crop production and helped develop the Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test (ISNT) to improve nitrogen recommendations for corn. During the tour, he presented information about their demonstration plots in the Indian Creek watershed. “Anything we can do to demonstrate and show them how they can be more efficient, they’re very interested in, and it’s also good for the environment. So I think it can be a real win-win.”

Tim said this has been a real good group to work with, and he’s impressed by the large number of farmers in that area participating and the questions he’s heard on the CTIC tour.

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Tim here: Interview with Tim Smith, Cropsmith

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Cover Crops Improving Soil Health

Roger Windhorn USDA-NRCSWhen I attended the CTIC Indian Creek Watershed Tour last year it was in the middle of the drought and the ground was so dry that Roger Windhorn, USDA-NRCS, couldn’t even find moisture when he dug a soil pit. Different situation this year since he found water about 30 inches down on the Bachtold farm.

Roger was giving a presentation on soil health giving us an up close and personal look at how cover crop roots grow and contribute to improve the soil. You’ll be able to see it yourself in the video and listen to him explain.

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

CTIC Tour Host Big Believer in Filter Strips

ctic-13-terry-bachtoldHealthy soils are products of good management practices. And topping the list of practices for Terry Bachtold (shown getting an appreciation present for all his hard work of hosting), one of the host farmers for last week’s Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., is using filter strips.

“I’m a big believer in filter strips,” he exclaimed. “Whether it is my cattle operation or a corn grain farmer, I just feel filter strips do a lot for water quality improvements.” Even with his affinity toward filter strips, Terry believes that a variety of techniques can bring healthy soils to a farm, including cover crops, no-till or rotational grazing.

Terry admitted that he is not a row crop farmer, separating his farm into pasture paddocks rotational grazing for his cow-calf operation. He added what a difference a year had made in recovering from drought conditions on his farm.

“Last year at this time, we were buying hay from July 4th. This year, we’ve got plenty of pastures.”

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Terry here: Interview with Terry Bachtold, host on CTIC tour

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Good Drainage Key to Managing Watershed Runoff

ctic-13-phil-algreenOn the recent Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., we’ve talked a lot about nutrients draining into the local watershed and how to prevent that. Part of that formula includes controlling any water drainage from the land, and Phil Algreen with Agri Drain, a company that specializes in drainage management, talked to the crowd about some of his company’s products.

“Well, the main thing we use to [manage drainage] is called a water level control structure, a device you put on a tile main outlet [that allows] you to control [at one spot] the water table in that area affected by that tile,” adding that it is seasonally adjustable — less drainage in the winter and summer and maybe more in the spring when you’re trying to plant a crop.

But Phil talked bigger picture with the folks on the CTIC tour, explaining how their systems are not necessarily good for every situation and how they are mostly built for the flat topography of an area like Livingston County, Ill.

“But there are other practices besides drainage management we talked about: saturated buffers, wood-chip bioreactors… different things you can do, depending on the area where you live. Kind of like tools in a tool box. You’ve got to pick the right one.”

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Phil here: Interview with Phil Algreen with Agri Drain

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

CTIC is Good Way to Show Good Practices

ctic-13-pauley-bradleyThe latest Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., has been a good way for the farmers of that region to showcase what they are doing to be good stewards of the environment, while making sure they maintain a good bottom line. Pauley Bradley with John Deere and a member of the CTIC is shown welcoming everyone to the opening reception sponsored by John Deere. He said this is the third year CTIC has been involved in the Indian Creek watershed project that shows how to balance good stewardship with good economics.

“The goal was to get at least half of the producers in the watershed as part of the initiative to do everything they could on the land to improve water quality in the area. We’ve got more than 40 percent participation right now, which is tremendous, [with] a lot of collaboration and a lot of folks pulling in the same direction,” Pauley said, adding that it was heartening to see capacity crowds on the tour, with many of those from the city able to see for themselves the good practices going on. “I talked to Dr. Norm Widman who’s the national agronomist from NRCS last night, and he said, ‘You know, we just have to get out of town, away from the concrete buildings and get grounded every once in a while.’ ”

Pauley went on to say he was quite pleased to see how much information they could pack into the days of this tour.

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Pauley here: Interview with Pauley Bradley, John Deere and a member of CTIC

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Farmer Appreciates Crowds, Support on CTIC Tour

ctic-13-mike-trainorGood crowds from around the area and many parts of the country turned out for last week’s Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., and that was appreciated by the local farmers.

“Today we had a lot of people here. When you go to all that work, and you put these plots in, and you try to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong, to see this many people come in on our farm and see what we’ve done, it kind of gives you a real good feeling about what you do,” said Mike Trainor the host at the Trainor family farm, one of the stops on the CTIC tour, and a certified Crop Adviser and a registered USDA technical service provider. He’s in the picture with his dad, Jack Trainor, getting an appreciation award for letting CTIC come to the family farm.

Mike said with pricey inputs, it makes economical and ecological sense to make sure they don’t runoff.

“As expensive as the inputs are, we need to figure out how to put ‘em there, how to keep ‘em there, and how to best utilize ‘em.”

Mike said it’s also rewarding to be recognized by the federal regulators at the EPA that farmers like him are trying to do what’s best for the environment. He said even without the feds, it’s important for them to be able to pass this operation down to the next generation of farmers in the family.

“We’re all in it together, and we want it to be profitable for them down the road and good for the environment.”

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Mike here: Interview with Mike Trainor, Trainor Farms

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

CTIC: Using Cover Crops to Boost Yields

ctic-13-mike-plumerGetting the most out of what you’ve got is a goal that most producers have, and during last week’s Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., the value of using cover crops to boost a bottom line was shown. Mike Plumer is a retired University of Illinois Extension educator in agriculture and natural resources and currently a consultant for conservation agriculture, in particular, cover crops. He made a presentation to the group about the value cover crops can add.

“We’re seeing a lot of benefits,” Mike said. “One, we’re capturing nitrogen, holding that nitrogen so we don’t lose it, we’re increasing root infiltration so we get more water movement in the soil, we’re adding more biological activity, we’re adding organic matter to the soil, and as a result, we’re typically seeing yield increases.”

Mike echoed the sentiments of other speakers who showed that cover crops can help save yields, especially during drought years, and pointed to one farmer who told him his yields were 50 bushels an acre better where he had a cover crop.

During one stop on the CTIC tour, Mike discussed several different options in cover crops and how to use each of them.

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Mike here: Interview with Mike Plumer, cover crop specialist

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Communication Key to Cooperation in CTIC Tour

ctic-13-marion-shierCooperation is key for successful conservation practices in agriculture, and the key to that cooperation is good communication among all the players. That was the message attendees of the recent Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., heard.

“If you want to go back to a simple recipe for success, cooperation among many industries, many individuals and many different organizations,” said Marion Schier (pictured on the left with Dan Froelich, Brandt Consolidated, showing off their tour t-shirts), an agronomist with United Soils, Inc. and a former University of Illinois crop extension specialist with more than 30 years in the business, most of it in Livingston County, Ill. He went on to say there have been decades of cooperation in that area. “If you don’t have good communication, good rapport, you need to start with getting those things developed before you are expecting things to change. The big key here is cooperation and trying to work on communication.”

This is the third year for the CTIC study and program, with new items added each year. Marion also said you have to take into account how the differing factors from year-to-year, such as last year’s drought, affect the outcomes and don’t try to apply one year’s worth of data to every situation.

“I try to encourage people to take all the information that we gather from all of the various studies and projects and weigh that with the growing conditions and make determinations and decisions based upon those situations. Don’t make any rash, drastic changes from one year to the next.”

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Marion here: Interview with Marion Schier, Agronomist, United Soils, Inc.

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

CTIC Panel Addresses Soil Quality, Nitrate Levels

ctic-13-marcus-maierOne of the best parts about the Conservation Technology Information Center tour is the conversations that come up, either through formal panels or just informal talks. On the more formal side, local Livingston County, Ill., farmer Marcus Maier (pictured seated, holding the microphone) sat on a panel during the tour that addressed soil health and the issue of nitrate runoff into local watersheds.

“We’re trying to get farmers to implement conservations systems,” he explained, not only just cover crops or filter strips or field buffers, but a whole system, including nutrient management systems. Marcus said the biggest challenge is nitrate runoff into the Indian Creek watershed. “Two towns are fed by Indian Creek: Fairbury with a population of about 4,000 and Pontiac has about 12,000. So that’s our goal to help reduce [those nitrate levels in the water supplies].”

On the more informal side, lots of farmers are talking about how they’ve had much better rain than last year, which is good for the crops but kept many out of the field for a long time, putting them a bit behind. Overall, though, Marcus is pretty optimistic about how the crops in that area will turn out this year.

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Marcus here: Interview with Marcus Maier, CTIC panelist, local farmer

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Conservation Work Helps Farmers Avoid Regulations

ctic-13-marcia-willhiteGetting caught up in government regulations and red tape is something any farmer wants to avoid, and attendees of the recent Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., heard how they can avoid more of that with voluntary programs, such as the one on display on the tour. Marcia Willhite, the Chief of the Bureau of Water with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said they’re encouraged by the success of the Indian Creek project and how voluntary efforts by farmers are paying dividends for everyone.

“Our culture is such on the agricultural side that a voluntary, incentive-based approach is what we have to work with,” she said. “I think it might be somewhat of a motivator to avoid regulations, but my sense is that the speakers and farmers in this watershed are focusing on is they see the benefit for their own productivity, they see the benefit for water quality for their own community.”

Marcia went on to say that this is a good story that needs to be told about how farmers and government are working together for the betterment of all.

“We’ve just been real excited about the success of finding out what happens when a large number of producers within a watershed decide to commit to conservation practices. There has been leadership among producers, taking charge of what they want to do to address water quality issues.”

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Marcia here: Interview with Marcia Willhite, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

CTIC: Soil Health Key to Crop Health

ctic-13-hans-kokAttendees of the recent Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., heard about the importance of soil health and how it can pay big dividends back to producers … and the consequences of not taking care of the soil.

“We have really degraded our soils in the Midwest,” explained Hans Kok (on the right, pointing to his demonstration of soil quality at a field stop), the coordinator of the Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative (CCSI). He showed some studies where one particular plot of soil had 6 percent organic material in it to just 2 percent today — all because of tillage. “If we quit the tillage, start using cover crops, more intense crop rotations, we can actually bring that soil organic matter back up.”

Hans pointed to corn fields during last year’s drought that weren’t tilled, allowing the roots to go much deeper, as much as four to five feet in the ground, and able to survive the drought much better. He also demonstrated a slake test that showed how a no-till clod of soil stayed together in water much better, indicating more binding organic matter, than a tilled clod.

“You can drive your tractor on those soils when they are fairly wet, and the tilled soil will fall apart.”

He directed those wanting more information to the Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative website, www.CCSIN.org.

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Hans here: Interview with Hans Kok, Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

High Flying Seeds Ground Cover

ctic-13-eric-smithOne of the “high”lights of the recent Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., was a demonstration of using a crop duster to seed ground cover on a field still growing corn. Eric Smith with Pontiac Flying Service explained shortly after one of his pilots (in fact, Scott Petersen, the company’s owner/operations manager) flew over the field and buzzed the tents where the tour attendees were standing that putting down the cover of radishes and oats has become a growing aspect of their business.

“In the aerial application world, you think of fungicide and insecticide work primarily, but we’ve seen an expansion in dry seeding of cover crops and spreading dry fertilizer in a wet year like this year,” Eric said. He went to explain they set up the plane a little differently, using a dry spreader mounted under the hopper and flying a little higher than normal to produce a more uniform seeding pattern over an area. Interest continues to grow for this type of service, with orders already being taken for the fall. “We’re seeing the interest pick up. I know seed supplies were tight last year and I think they’ll be even tighter this year because the demand for this is just exploding.”

Eric went on to point out the advantage of using a plane is that it allows you to get the seed down while the crop is still in the field, giving it a couple of weeks of growth while the cash crop finishes maturing. Plus, he said that root systems on plants such as rye grass have more time to grow and develop root systems.

“We’re excited for our business. It gives us another service we can offer to our customers.”

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Eric here: Interview with Eric Smith, Pontiac Flying Service

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

GROWMARK: CTIC Support is Being Good Stewards

ctic-13-dan-maggartThe Conservation Technology Information Center tour just completed with a theme of “Community 4 Conservation” this year. Dan Maggart with GROWMARK (pictured to the right, talking to bus load on the tour about what GROWMARK offers in way of agronomic services) explained why his company sees itself as such a good fit as a sponsor for the tour and its theme.

“GROWMARK has a retail arm, where we go directly to the farm gate and make nutrient recommendations to growers, so we’re privileged to be able to use all sorts of tools as far as nutrients, fertilizers, so we just want to maintain that privilege that we’ve had for years and be good stewards of the land, but also the water bodies and the folks downstream,” Dan said.

He said the structure of the CTIC tour in Livingston County, Ill., is a good template that GROWMARK can apply in conservation practices across its core area across the Midwest, but also to their customers that reach to the East Coast and into Canada, as well as nationwide in the U.S. Dan added they make sure their sales force that come to those farms and make recommendations for best business and conservation practices are thoroughly trained to make the best recommendations possible.

“This group has historically done a tremendous job doing that. In fact, there’s 20 years of what we would call on-site training, we have special schools for young crop specialists, and regular updates throughout the year to re-educate and get that message across to our distribution and our retail outlets,” Dan said.

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Dan here: Interview with Dan Maggart, GROWMARK

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album

Finding Solutions From the Land

Ernie SheaPrior to the start of the 2013 Conservation in Action Tour attendees learned more about Solutions From The Land from Project Coordinator Ernie Shea. This was part of the pre-tour seminar. Here’s what SFL is all about: “A national dialogue led by agriculture, forestry and conservation thought leaders to help landowners and managers make the most of the land’s potential.”

After Ernie’s presentation I visited with him to find out what’s going on with SFL. Ernie says he’s supporting a group of agricultural, forestry and conservation leaders that have a new vision for how land can be managed in a way that really revalues the multiple services and solutions that farmers, ranchers and foresters deliver.” He says that these solutions are often undervalued, “So what we’re trying to do is create a framework so that farmers and ranchers can be actually compensated for this wider range of services and solutions that they deliver from the land.” SFL is an outgrowth of the 25x’25 Alliance energy program.

Listen to my interview with Ernie to learn more about SFL here: Interview with Ernie Shea

2013 Conservation in Action Tour Photo Album