Madison County SWCD
Mike Shuter runs a family farming operation in Frankton, Ind., with his wife Susan and their two sons Brian and Patrick. They farm in Madison County and work closely with the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District.
The Shuter operation includes a rotation of corn, soybeans and wheat. They’ve integrated many conservation practices into their operation, creating a real system for soil health. They’ve been a no-till operation for 35 years and have been strip-tilling for 15 years ahead of their corn crop.
For the past eight years, the Shuters have been using cover crops, planting various cereal rye varieties ahead of their soybean crop, and planting annual ryegrass and rape ahead of their corn crop. To terminate the cereal rye and vetches, Shuter uses an I & J roller crimper. Most of the time this is used after they have planted or drilled soybeans that were planted green into the standing cereal rye or vetch.
The Shuters have also incorporated the use of cattle manure and hog manure into their operation. After the wheat harvest, they apply hog manure and then drill a 12 – 14-way cover crop cocktail mix to help improve water infiltration, soil organic matter and soil tilth.
With this system of integrated conservation practices, Shuter says they are building about 0.1 percent soil organic matter, annually.
Since beginning to use cover crops, Shuter has seen a dramatic improvement with water infiltration – even on cropland that has been no-till for 35 years. Cover crops have sequestered some of the fertilizer used, as well as helped to reduce soil erosion. The Shuters also been able to reduce their burn down chemical application on some of the fields where they’ve used the roller crimper on the cereal rye cover crops. The Shuters feel they’ve decreased nutrient runoff from their fields, which also means they are using less fertilizer, because it is staying in place. Through strip-tilling, they are locking most of their fertilizer into the soil rather than laying it on top.
The main challenge that Shuter has had with incorporating soil health practices into his operation has more to do with the negative reaction from fellow producers. He says sometimes there’s a perception that the more farm equipment you have, the better farmer you are.
In addition, other producers may pass along a negative perception of the Shuters’ farming practices to their landlords in order to protect their own way of operating their farms. One way that Shuter has faced this challenge is to get out in front of it and hold field days where he can explain as well as demonstrate what they are doing to build soil health, and to be an encouragement to others.
Posted May 2018