Simultaneous strip-till, fertilizer application and planting is the right springtime combination for Fayette County producer and ILF farmer partner Collin Jensen, who saves fuel, reduces soil erosion, improves soil quality and lessens compaction by farming this way.
With his program, Jensen says, “You can cut back on equipment, machinery, fuel and man hours per acre compared to conventional farming, and at the same time lose less soil. What else are you looking for?”
Collin has grown up farming, beginning at age 9, helping his father on the family farm, working the land that has been in his family for over 150 years. He owns and rents 2,500 acres on several northeast Iowa farms and says much of the land was moldboard plowed before he began farming it in the 1960s.
He reports dramatic increases in organic matter from years of practicing residue management. “In my soils there is a lot of decomposed material. It looks like good stuff you would see in a compost pile,” he says. “Over time, the soil at planting depth has built up more structure and doesn’t crust easily.”
He has been a no-tiller since the 1980s, having turned to it out of necessity. He needed help planting while he was working at an off-farm position for extra money. “My neighbor had a no-till planter, and I told him to go ahead. I have had some failures like everyone else, but you have to give it a chance.” Jensen cuts costs by performing most of his own fertilizing, plantingand harvesting. Since he only makes a couple trips through his fields, he has much lower fuel costs than producers who till conventionally. He says he uses approximately ¾ gallon per acre of fuel annually to fertilize and plant his crops.
It is important to plant on the contour in Jensen’s system because the stripped area can be susceptible to washing after planting, since rows sit lower than the crop residue. He plants continuous corn on steeper slopes, as it helps reduce erosion, particularly during heavy rains, because of the high amount of residue. He has installed terraces and grassed watersys and a CRP wetland.
Jensen believes it is important to leave cornstalks standing. He calls them the “pipeline by which water gets into the soil.” He says corn root mass left untouched holds more soil, and doesn’t wash into the ditches.
Earthworms are also an important part of Jensen’s system. They help improve the quality of his soil by increasing the availability of nutrients, improving physical properties of the soil, moving residue deep inside the soil and enhancing beneficial microorganisms. In addition, earthworm channels help remove excess rainfall and snowmelt.
“Everyone is worried about yield loss. Here in the northeast corner of Iowa, the ground doesn’t warm up as fast. But I seem to plant as early as anyone else. When I started soil-sampling in the 1960s, the hilly ground had 1.7 percent organic matter. Now it is about three to four percent. It isn’t totally scientific but I think I have stabilized the organic matter loss. I don’t have ruts in the soil anymore and I don’t have washouts like I did in the past.”
In the fall of 2013 he tried cover crops for the first time, seeding radishes and oats on his prevent-plant acres. He would like to aerially seed rye into soybeans next.
Collin is married to Jennifer and has four children. His son Ben began farming with him in 2012. He is a member of Pheasants Forever, Farm Bureau and his local church.
Building a Culture of Conservation:
“It will take several years to get the full benefit of no-till. You have to be willing to make it work. If you lightly disc, you ruin the benefit of no-till. It is important to leave it alone.”
"Farmers are caretakers of the soil. Our time is short in 'dirt time.' It is our responsibilty to leave the soil in better shape than we got it."