Brad Ritter and his wife Laura have 18 year-old triplets: Amanda, Adam, and Aaron. Brad, who is a fifth generation farmer, farms 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans, and vegetables (limas, peas, blackeyes) with this son Adam. His daughter Amanda, a pre-vet student, attends the University of Delaware, and his second son Aaron is currently undecided in his life path. Laura and Brad also own a self-storage facility and billboards, which Brad says keeps them “very busy.”
Brad uses either strip till, minimum till, or no-till on all of his family’s acreage. He also plants cover crops on every acre, usually sticking to radish blends. “We were first in the area to try radish back in the early 2000s,” Brad told NACD.
He’s been using strip till for the last five years on all his corn ground and some vegetable acres. “We started using strip till as a way to conserve fertilizer, increase root penetration, and increase yields which it has significantly,” he said. “We have found that strip tilling is the best of both worlds. It allows you to work the ground right in the planting bed and you can place the fertilizer exactly where it is needed. It also leaves the cover crop in place to reduce erosion.”
Brad is working to find the perfect species and blend of cover crop. Some species create so much residue that they can plug the strip till and prevent a good seed bed, he said. Other challenges Brad has encountered are region-specific. Brad’s area has “extremely sandy soils” with low organic matter to begin with. It takes “many, many years of building (organic matter content with soil health practices) to make much of a difference in the organic matter of the soil,” he said. “We are getting there, but it’s a lot of investment of time and effort. In the end, we feel it is worth the effort.”
Another challenge unique to his area of the country is development pressure. “It seems like once we get a farm up to a productive level, it gets sold to a developer who then strips away all that topsoil we have worked so hard to build,” he said.