Keith and Brian Berns
Lower Republican and Little Blue NRDs
Keith Berns and Brian Berns have been farming in south central Nebraska all of their lives. Keith and Audrey Berns have seven children and Brian and Christi Berns have six children. Keith and Brian farm ground in both the Lower Republican and the Little Blue Natural Resources Districts. Education about conservation and soil health are important priorities for the Berns brothers, they told NACD.
“We started no-tilling in the late 1980s and have been 100 percent continuous no-till since 1999,” Keith said. “Integrating cover crops in 2008 has been a major factor in improving the health of the soil on our 2,000 acres.” According to Keith, 20 years of no-till has raised the brothers’ average organic matter level in their soils from 1.8 percent to around 2.8 percent (1999 – 2008). In the last seven years they’ve used cover crops, they’ve raised organic matter content by an additional 0.75 percent, from 2.8 percent to 3.4 percent. In that time, “our crop rotation has expanded from corn-beans and wheat to include sunflowers, buckwheat, vetch, okra, rye, barley, and triticale,” he added.
Keith says most of their experiences using conservation practices have been positive, but there have been times when it’s been “very challenging.”
“We have had some bad experiences trying to grow crops that we have never tried before, but we learn as we go and make adjustments as needed,” Keith explained. “When we haven’t properly managed the termination of our cover crop, or managed nutrients or livestock integration inappropriately, we’ve hurt our potential grain yields. Overall though, the benefits of making the changes far outweigh the setbacks. Just knowing we are building our soils instead of losing them makes the extra management challenges worth it.”
In Bladen, Nebraska, moisture management on dryland acres can be a real challenge, too, Keith said. “Knowing how much moisture to invest in cover crops and soil health without putting the cash crop at risk is a critical management decision every spring,” he said. It’s also been challenging to modify equipment to work in higher residue farming conditions. “As we diversify our rotation by integrating other crops and more livestock, we have much to learn about growing things other than just corn and soybeans.”