Gove County, Kansas
Gove County Conservation District
Larry Manhart and his wife Janice, son Doug, and daughter-in-law Stephanie farm approximately 3,000 acres of cropland (a wheat, corn, and fallow land/cover crop rotation) and manage 1,000 acres of grass for grazing in northwest Kansas.
The Manharts’ goal is to eliminate tilling and minimize soil disturbance in their operation. “We started no-till about 20 years ago and have experimented with cover crops in the last 10 years, gradually trying a new ideas and practices each year, as conditions allow,” Larry told NACD. “We have planted many multi-species cover crop mixes and have also begun grazing fields that were previously fallow.” Larry uses soil testing to monitor organic matter and other soil health factors and has found the results encouraging. “We understand that this is a long process but are hopeful we’re making small steps in the right direction every year.”
Larry says he’s had a number of good experiences using soil health practices. For one, his soil’s fertility and overall health has improved. He also says his crops seem to “hang on longer during extended drought periods” and have less variable yields. Cover crops in particular, Larry said, have provided “very good weed suppression” and “awesome daily gains” for his feeder cattle.
There have been some challenges to using these practices, however. Larry is concerned cover crops can deplete soil moisture and put cash crops at a disadvantage. It’s also been difficult to address weed pressure without tillage, he said. In fact, many local farmers have started tilling again to try and regain control of their fields.
Low commodity prices and the risk of drought also factor into farmers’ decisions to use conservation practices. “Low commodity prices are a huge challenge for everyone in agriculture and many of us don’t want to risk trying new ideas and practices when margins are thin to begin with,” Larry said. “In a drought, all farmers want every drop of moisture to go toward a cash crop, not a cover.”
“Another challenge is the limited knowledge and experience in our area, especially with covers,” he added. “It is hard to know which way to turn for reliable information. And sometimes the guy who tries a new technique faces some social challenges within his/her circle of friends.”
“The answer to all of these challenges is to start small,” Larry said. “We try to do some new things as conditions allow, but we can’t risk the whole farm in order to try new things.”