Darwin and Sandy RobertsGranada, MN

Darwin_and_Sandy_Roberts NACDSoilHealthChampionLogoMartin County, Minnesota
Roberts Farm

We work with our four grown children (three daughters and one son) in a farming partnership of 800 acres of corn/soybean and pork production. I am a third-term elected Martin SWCD Supervisor. I have been a Farm Bureau member for over 40 years, have served over 30 years on the County Board of Directors for the MN Corn & Soybean organizations, on the County Water Plan Board since helping with its creation in the 1980’s, and on a Policy Board of a (10) county watershed (GBERBA) Greater Blue Earth River Basin Alliance.

I am also involved in research projects with the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in the areas of water quality, nutrient management and biomass production. In July 2014, I was certified through the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) for my farm management practices. MAWQCP is a voluntary opportunity for farmers and agriculture landowners to take the lead in implementing conservation practices that protect our water, and in turn obtain regulatory certainty for a period of 10 years.

Soil Health Practices

Soil health practices on our operation include the use of cover crops—including cereal rye, radishes, clover and brassicas—aerial seeded in standing beans and corn in late August.

To allow for maximum cover crop growth and excellent spring re-growth of cereal rye, we do not engage in fall tillage.

We no-till soybeans when planting into cornstalks and do burn- down prior to planting corn. We also use control drainage structures, bioreactors and water retention ponds/sediment basins to store nutrient enriched water, which is used later in the growing season by sub-irrigating into drain tile systems.

We maintain 50-foot buffers along waterways, including saturated buffers along streams, and have installed vertical drop (Hickenbottom) inlets with broom or straw inserts in 1-Rod (16 1/2) buffers along county drainage ditches on farmland. Currently, we are collaborating with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Corn Growers and the University of Minnesota on installing more saturated buffers along stream-banks to remove excess nutrients from surface water discharge.

We also allow State and Federal Agencies to do research on stream bank restoration, silt retention and turbidity issues in streams adjacent to my cropland, and host numerous field days and bus tours throughout the year to provide agency researchers time to educate and showcase new conservation and soil-health programs.

Challenges

The short growing season for cover crops is a challenge. The normal kill frost that happens in mid to late October stops all beneficial vegetation growth that helps to store nutrients remaining in the soil after harvest. When planting radishes, turnips or any deep-rooted plants, frost prevents root development that improves water infiltration and soil tilth, and reduces organic matter.

As with any major change in farming practices, we’ve learned to expect a three-to-five year learning curve before realizing what “cocktail mix” of seed to use, and how often and what time of year is the optimum to inter-seed in standing crops.

In my area, the use of cover crops is steadily increasing and the majority of us are realizing economic, agronomic and environmental benefits.

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