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SoyRoy: My Dad’s Farm Remains Sustainable

My conservative dad was a leader with conservation practices.

My parents bought the farm, where I now live, in the late 1940s.

Having just survived the Great Depression and the greatest drought in 100 years, my dad was understandably conservative in many ways.

The farm he bought was quite hilly with many erosion problems that made farming difficult. However, my dad was anxious to make improvements as soon as the finances would allow. It was not long before government programs started, so it was possible for my dad and others in his situation to get cost-sharing on erosive land to implement needed improvements.

I jokingly tell people that I farm in a place where 7% slope is considered flat. That is not too far from the truth.

Dad was aggressive in getting his conservation practices under way. He was the first in the area to install terraces on the hilly fields. He did the work himself with a borrowed disk plow behind his Oliver 70.

It was not many years until neighboring farmers saw the advantage of terraces drained by grass waterways. Ditches disappeared. Runoff from fields was virtually reduced to an acceptable level. The improvements worked notwithstanding the cost of installation and upkeep. Distances between terraces were not enough to be an issue when farming the odd-shape fields.

The first fields were planted using two-row equipment. That machinery was gradually replaced with four-row planters and cultivators.

Finally, a switch was made to six-row, 30-inch production equipment. This worked well for a long time, because there was just enough room between terraces to plant two rounds or 12 rows between the shortest terrace channels. 

Some time later, there was a major switch to no-till, which also changed the row-spacing issue. For a long time, most farmers were content with the old planting patterns.

This changed in the decade 2000. Planting equipment, several times as large, made it possible to cover considerably more land in the same amount of time.

By this time, tillage equipment had almost disappeared from the scene in many locales. However, the environment in the fields did not necessarily mature along with the other crop inputs and production machinery. The larger machinery made it possible to cover up the erosion damage caused by the farmers who were planting and spraying erodible land. Modern application equipment made it possible to replace nutrients lost to erosion.

Sadly, many of the recent innovations have been neutralized by planting too much too fast. At some point, the farming business is going to pay for being in too much of a hurry.

But for now, when a quick thunderstorm went through Cass County, Nebraksa, on Thursday and dropped 1.3 inches of rain, the value of conservation structures and practices was again illustrated in a big way.

Dad would be so proud! Happy Father’s day.

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