Brian and Mitchell Hora
Washington County SWCD
Brian and Mitchell Hora own and run a father and son operation located in Ainsworth, Iowa. As sixth and seventh generation farmers, they understand the value of a legacy and are always looking for ways to improve their soil health and the health of their operation. The Horas are involved in the ag industry beyond the farm. Mitchell founded a soil health data company, Continuum Ag, to help global agriculturalists understand and improve their soil health metrics.
Upon graduating from Iowa State University, Brian returned to the family farm. While they had experimented with no-till corn, it was at that point they started no-tilling soybeans. In 1986, they purchased the third Great Plains no-till drill to be sold in Iowa. Since that time, all beans on the Hora farm have been no-till.
In 2013, Brian started experimenting with cover crops, but it wasn’t until the fall of 2015 that he and Mitchell really began integrating the practice into their entire operation. However, the Horas have installed strategically placed test strips throughout their fields to foster their research efforts. With the guidance of Mitchell and Continuum Ag, nearly 200 trial strips are deployed across the operation each year. These trials include intense Haney soil health testing, aerial imagery, tissue sampling, sensor data and more.
The Horas are experimenting with a wide array of practices and products, which include:
- Single species cover crop trials
- Cereal rye vs. winter wheat
- Planting corn and soybeans green
- Relay cropping wheat or rye with soybeans
- 60” row corn
- Diverse, interseeded cover crops
- Multi-species fall cover crop applications
- A variety of starter fertilizer products
- Biological products
- Foliar biology, chemistry and fertility
- Adding alternative crops into the traditional corn/soybean rotation
- Double cropping cereals and soybeans
- Less reliance on synthetic fertilizers and herbicide use, and better use of inherent soil nutrients
- Intense variable rate applications
- Spring seeded cover crops/frost seeding
- Interseed methods: spreader, robotic tractors, drone application
- Carbon markets
- Weekly soil health testing
Mitchell describes their initial experience with cover crops as a massive failure. However, through trial and error, the Horas have found the knowledge needed to succeed. The first cover crop trial was in 2016, where cereal rye was drilled in a side-by-side trial in the fall of 2015. Corn was planted into the 12” tall cereal rye without changing the fertility program, adjusting the planter settings or effectively terminating the grass cover crop. The side-by-side trial showed a 20 bushel per acre loss. This was about a $100 per acre loss, which would constitute as a complete failure for most farmers. However, the issues were identified and with Haney soil health testing, quick soil health gains were quantified. Also, after deeper examination, the Horas found that even their “failed” corn, which was planted into cereal rye ended up yielding an amazing 245 bushels per acre on their trial plot. With a better understanding and solid soil data, the Horas scaled up this practice with great success in the years following.
The main challenge the Horas have observed from within the ag industry is a lack of patience in the understanding of how to logistically and economically improve soil health. Mitchell explains that through their on-farm research, they aim to remove everyone’s excuses in implementing good soil health practices. Being data-driven in their research, the Horas reduce the risks they face when making changes to their operation, and they demonstrate that these soil health principles can be effectively implemented in other farms across southeast Iowa. It just may take some tweaking.
Updated March 2020.