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Takeaways From Winter Meetings

03/14/2014 @ 11:22am

When harvest season is over, it’s officially farm show season. And convention, conference, and meeting season. All winter long across the country companies, universities, organizations, and other groups host meetings designed to save you money, make you more efficient, increase your yield, and make you a better farmer overall.

There were several common trends I noticed this year after attending a few of these informative meetings. There are two forces (among others) driving these trends: lower commodity prices and the ever-increasing population.

We all knew commodity prices would have to come down at some point, and that time has come. Because of this, there is an increased interest in practices that reduce costs.

Second, at some point during the past few years, you’ve probably heard the looming population prediction: By 2050, we’ll have 9 billion mouths to feed. To achieve this, we’ll not only need innovative practices, we’ll also need to focus on conservation. We only have so much land and so much water. To hit the 9-billion mark, we’ll need to manage both of these precious resources responsibly. For this reason, there was a spike in sessions discussing conservation methods.

Based on this, I saw four trends emerge: reducing tillage, using cover crops, moving away from corn-on-corn acres, and increasing diversity.

1. Reducing tillage
There are multiple ways to cut back costs on the farm. One main way that was discussed repeatedly was reducing tillage. Maybe you’ve increased your corn-after-corn acres because of higher commodity prices the past few years, and to deal with the extra residue you’ve reverted to full-width tillage. Now may be the time to think about moving away from more aggressive tillage.

Reduced tillage saves fuel and reduces tractor horsepower requirements. Not to mention, it’s better for your soil. This could be a move to vertical-tillage, strip-till, or all the way down to no-till.

2. Using cover crops
This has been a hot topic for the past few years, and it’s not losing any momentum. Cover crops reduce wind and soil erosion and increase soil organic matter. The conservation benefits are obvious. The cost benefits are there but are more subtle.

While you will have the extra seed cost plus the costs of planting and killing the crop, cover-crop believers preach that the crops' ability to capture and store nutrients and water for cash crops could also make it a money-saving practice.

3. Moving away from corn-on-corn (or corn-after-corn)
With corn back in the $4 range, it’s no longer the hot commodity it has been for the past few years. For this reason, there could be a decrease in the number of corn-after-corn acres as farmers mix other crops into the rotation.

4. Increasing plant diversity
This is a combination of using cover crops and moving away from corn-on-corn acres or even a corn-soybean rotation. At sessions this winter, Ontario farmer Blake Vince and North Dakota farmer Joe Breker both stress the importance of a diverse crop rotation for soil health, resulting in better long-term yields and profits.

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