ILF farmer partner Bill Hammitt knows conservation from many aspects. He is a no-till farmer, a Soil and Water Conservation District commissioner, and was employed for 15 years at Natural Resources Conservation Service. Farming near Portsmouth in Harrison County, he has been a corn-soybean no-tiller for over 30 years. He farmed while working for NRCS and the farm grew to where he couldn’t keep doing both, so he chose to become a full-time farmer.
“When no-till came about in the ‘80s I felt that was the answer to a lot of our resource problems. So I started practicing on my own farm what I had been preaching,” said Hammitt. “We’ve reached a point where we need to do more to promote no-till. There are a lot of long time no-tillers out there and there are those who won’t even try it. We need to bring in those people in and get started. Living in the Loess Hills, it’s a tremendous erosion prone area and that’s where we need no-till the worst.”
Bill points out that now would be a good time to consider no-till. “We are getting into a time of super high energy costs I think we need to promote no-till from the aspects of saving energy and conserving moisture.”
He has installed terraces, waterways, filter strips, and grassed headlands on his land and also uses contouring and cover crops. He has re-established native prairie CRP land as well.
Bill and his wife, Rita, are the parents of a grown daughter and son. When not talking no-till, he is busy gardening, hunting or fishing. He serves the the board for Amaizing Energy ethanol plant, Denison; Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District commissioner, and on the Western Iowa No-tillers (WIN) committee. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology from Iowa State University.
In 2012, Bill and Rita received the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award, which recognizes leaders who have made environmental stewardship a priority.
Building a Culture of Conservation: "Soil health not only benefits yields but conserve the resource. No-till and cover crops are the best recipe for good soil health."
Read Bill's feature article that ran in the May 2012 Wallaces Farmer:
Hammitt a long-term successful no-till proponent in Harrison County
Iowa Learning Farms partner Bill Hammitt grows corn and soybeans near Portsmouth in Harrison County. Hammitt started no-till planting corn in 1982 and in 1990 he built his first no-till, split-row soybean planter. He believes long-term no-till has improved soil structure and water infiltration on his farm.
“Our long-term no-till managed soils are like a sponge. We never see water standing in the terraced areas of our fields,” says Hammitt. “Long-term no-till fields really stand out as you drive around during a big rainfall event. Enhanced soil structure and earthworm tunnels at the surface really soak up rainfall. Unfortunately, even a single tillage operation can destroy the soil structure and soil health benefits of long-term no-till.”
Bill has partnered with Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) since 2009. ILF works with many farmers across the state who use conservation farming practices while remaining profitable. Our farmers help ILF by sharing their experiences with others to help build a Culture of Conservation. They host field days, speak at workshops, or chat one-on-one with other farmers who are interested in making changes on their own farms.
All of Hammitt’s cropland is rotated between corn and soybean each year. Minimizing the residue effect on seedling emergence starts with harvest of the previous year’s crop. Hammitt ensures that his combine straw chopper and spreaders are adjusted to provide uniform residue distribution and soil surface coverage.
Hammitt samples his soil by management zones and variable-rate applies dry phosphorus and potassium fertilizer prior to each crop based on crop removal of nutrients, management zone sampling and combine yield monitor maps. Nitrogen and sulfur fertilizers are supplied by multiple products and application timing; following soybean harvest he surface-applies ammonium sulfate. Prior to corn planting he coulter-injects liquid UAN, ammonium thiosulfate and 10-34-0 liquid fertilizer to supply additional phosphorus for early seedling growth. Additional nitrogen is spring-applied as liquid UAN with pre-emerge corn herbicides.
“Until about five years ago we applied anhydrous ammonia as a less-expensive nitrogen source to corn, but we have noticed improved soil quality since we’ve moved away from anhydrous,” Bill says.
Hammitt’s planter row units are equipped with row cleaners and rippled coulters to plant corn in 30-inch rows. He raises the row cleaners and uses coulters alone when planting 15-inch soybean rows. Hammitt’s planter row units have standard rubber closing wheels.
Winter annual weed pressure can develop in fields with a long history of no-till crop management. To combat winter annuals and development of glyphosate-resistant weeds, Hammitt uses several herbicide products. Herbicides offering residual weed control are a staple each year. Soybean weed management includes an early preplant application of 2,4-D to offer clean fields until June, when glyphosate is applied post-emerge. Hammitt has encountered winter annual weed pressure in corn. In response, after soybean harvest, he applies Basis® herbicide with 2,4-D. For corn, a post-emerge glyphosate application includes atrazine or another broadleaf-specific product to kill glyphosate-resistant weeds.
Hammitt has not experienced increased insect or disease pressure with his long-term no-till management system. He uses soybean seed treated with fungicides and insecticides and triple-stack corn hybrids featuring cutworm and earworm insect protection. Hammitt recognizes that corn disease resistance is important when selecting a corn hybrid—particularly for those planting corn following corn.
Bill serves on the Western Iowa No-Till (WIN) committee and is active in his community. “No-till is about sustainability of the soil resource—for the next generation and for generations beyond. Here in the Loess Hills of western Iowa, no-till and terraces alone do not provide the full answer for long-term sustainability. I think cover crops may be the answer to help us build back soils that have been eroded and offer year-round coverage of the soil surface,” says Hammitt.