Tom Wagner is a farmer in rural Primghar, O’Brien County. Tom and his brother, Jim, grow corn and soybeans, and have a hog finishing operation. They are also NK seed dealers.
Tom and his family have always been conservation-minded. He believes agriculture is our nation’s greatest asset and that our soil is farming’s top resource. “My brother, Jim, and I want our farm to be productive for years to come and resource conservation will do that.”
Tom serves other organizations as well: O’Brien Soil and Water District commissioner, Northwest REC director and St. Anthony’s parish council in Primghar. He earned a B.S. from South Dakota State University. He and his wife, Holly, have three children.
The Wagner family was one of the families to receive the first annual Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award, presented by Gov. Branstad at the Iowa State Fair in 2012.
Read the feature story that ran in Wallaces Farmer, January 2012:
Wagner brothers are sold on strip-till
The Iowa Learning Farms program works with many farmers across the state who are demonstrating conservation farming practices while remaining profitable. Our farmers help ILF by sharing their experiences with others in order 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. Farmer partner Tom Wagner shares details of his strip-tillage success with us.
Tom Wagner and his brother, Jim, farm near Primghar in O’Brien County. They formerly used multiple full-width tillage passes before planting. Today, they successfully no-till plant soybean into standing cornstalks and strip-till the row area into which corn is planted. All their corn is planted in a corn-soybean rotation.
The Wagners had shared tillage operations with a neighbor who retired after the 2005 harvest. At that time, the brothers opted to change their crop management system rather than upgrading their line of full-width tillage equipment. They began by leasing a strip-tillage bar from their local ag supplier; in 2010 they purchased a 12-row strip-tillage bar that has residue managers followed with wavy coulter, mole knife, and wavy coulter sealers/ berm builders.
“It takes a little more attention to detail, but our stand establishment has been comparable to conventional-till,” said Tom. “We have been very happy with our yields and believe we have improved yields in dry years.”
Minimizing corn residue on soybean emergence starts with harvest of the previous year’s corn crop. To limit matted corn residue at planting, the Wagners use a knife roll-equipped corn head leaving harvested cornstalks as tall as possible and evenly distributing residue.
After soybean harvest they variable rate broadcast a two-year rate of phosphorus, potash fertilizer and lime before strip-tilling. Fields have been grid-sampled since the mid 1990’s. Fall strip-tillage includes variable rate-applied anhydrous ammonia in management zones. An additional 30-40 units of nitrogen is spring-applied as liquid UAN with pre-emerge corn herbicides.
Tom and Jim have used a 30-in planter equipped with pneumatic down pressure and one curvetine spiked closing wheel per row. Planter row units have rippled coulter/residue manager combo units; the coulters are removed to plant corn. For 2012 they will switch to a similarly equipped split-row planter, which features the coulter/residue manager combo units on the front 12 rows and rippled coulters alone on the back 12 rows.
Soybean weed management includes two glyphosate applications (early post-emerge and early July timing). For 2012 the Wagners may include a residual herbicide, or one with a different mode of action, to compliment the glyphosate. Corn weed management includes pre-emerge residual herbicides with various modes of action, followed by glyphosate or glufosinate paired with Callisto.
The Wagners have not experienced increased Goss’s Wilt or other corn disease pressure with their higher surface residue system. Tom believes the tilled strip they plant into is an advantage for corn disease management and that strip-tilling before soybean planting is not necessary on their Galva-Primghar soil types. They prefer fall strip-tilling, but had good results when weather delayed strip-tillage to spring.
“We like the system for many reasons -- time savings, fuel savings, equipment cost per acre, increased soil tilth, and soil conservation, while we maintain top-end yields,” said Tom.
Tom also serves as an O’Brien County SWCD commissioner. “We look at our soil resource as something to preserve today and for future generations. Jim and I believe no-till and strip-till is our way of making that happen. Transitioning from full-width tillage has not always been easy, but we feel it’s worth it.”