Keith and Janie DennisRushville, OH

OH_SH_Champion_Dennis NACDSoilHealthChampionLogoRushville, Ohio
Perry County Soil and Water Conservation District
Rolling Fields Company

Janie and I bought our farm in 1976. Janie grew up on a dairy farm, and I on a grain farm, helping my great uncle at age 5. I began renting ground in 1968.
Our three married sons have blessed us with nine grandchildren, which is why we have great excitement for all soil health. So that our future generations will have living, productive soil to grow food to feed them. These young minds are our future, and they need to grasp how important soil health is to the future of the planet, not just our country! I served on the Perry County Soil and Water Board in the 1980s, and we were selected Conservation Farmers of the year in 2014 in Perry County, Ohio.

Soil Health Practices

In our years of farming, we tried many types of tillage, deep placement of fertility and no-till, etc., but it always seemed a piece of the puzzle was missing. Yields would respond a year or so, then go lower, the soil got tighter, drainage tile was not working, and horsepower needs increased. By learning of soil health in 2011, we began to understand what was keeping yields from improving. Now we understand the life beneath our feet was not being fed every day, due to our intensive rotation of corn and beans. With the soil being bare for eight months, the life in the soil has no living plant roots to feed on during those eight months between cash crops. Cover crops have changed that.

After 2011, when we had total prevented planting, we describe our farm as a 600-acre test farm. It includes eroded acres from 100 or more years of plowing, virgin ground we brought into production in 1976 and fields that were in alfalfa for 30 years. They all are reacting differently to the cover crops, while improvement is observed on all our many types of soil.

With 60 percent highly erodible ground we needed to protect the soil from erosion in 2011. Attending a cover crop meeting at the David Brandt farm, where Ray Archuleta was a presenter, we chose peas and radish for our first try at cover crops. We began using the Haney Soil Health Test to track soil health improvement. Now, the look, the feel, the smell, the plant-ability of our soil, and its health improvement in the last four years is amazing. We are now using multiple species of cover crops and still working to learn and improve our soil and yields.

We have had training sessions here for NRCS employees and do presentations to groups to explain how we need to understand and learn about the soil life beneath our feet. This understanding will enable them to feed our future generations, with better natural nutrients grown into our livestock and human food sources, while reducing damage to our water supplies and ecosystems.

Challenges

Mental understanding is the most difficult hurdle for producers. They see advertising for bigger equipment, better fertilizer and larger usage of it, and new improved chemicals as well as modified seed. Now they hear that cover crops enhance natural fertility, improve soil health, and the residue of cover crops restricts weed growth, and their tillage equipment cost can be removed. As cost for inputs of seed, fertilizer, and chemicals lower, their bottom line is improving. Our younger generation’s minds can begin to understand and grasp the importance of soil health and cost benefits easier and sooner than our generation, when it is explained in their early years. Just because our generation has not had the understanding of what all we have done to degrade our soils does not mean we should not begin the process to rebuild soil health while teaching our future generations so we all benefit!

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