Jerry and Nancy Ackermann
Jackson County SWCD
Jerry and Nancy Ackermann farm approximately 1,200 acres in Lakefield, Minn., located in the southwest corner of the state. They work in cooperation with the Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). Jerry is a fifth-generation farmer in the area, and they live on the farm Nancy’s parents purchased when they moved from Iowa in 1955. The Ackermanns have two daughters and a three-and-a-half-year-old grandson they hope will want to farm in the future.
The Ackermanns raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa as their cash crops. They have been managing these crops through strip-tilling the corn and no-tilling the soybeans and alfalfa for over the past twenty years. All fertilizer applications and corn planting are variable rate. The Ackermanns also maintain their fields on a four-year grid soil sampling rotation.
The Ackermanns incorporated cover crops into their operation 12-15 years ago and are currently using a four to ten-species cover crop mix. Their goal is to have a living root system in the soil 365 days of the year. They plant their corn and soybeans into a living cover (planting green) with the cover crop terminated after planting. Corn acres are interseeded at V-3 and V-5 with a mix of annual rye, purple top turnips, radishes, rape, buckwheat and balansa clover.
Some of the benefits the Ackermanns have noticed include less compaction, erosion control, higher yields, greater water infiltration, more moderate soil temperatures and greater weed control.
The Ackermanns have discovered that having a living cover crop makes it possible to plant and harvest in extremely wet conditions without soil compaction or rutting in the fields. The living plant and root system acts like rebar in the soil, carrying combines and planters in the adverse conditions they experienced in 2018 and 2019. They have even been able to combine soybeans through standing water.
In their early trials on interseeding at V-3 to V-4, soil scientist Ray Archuleta advised the Ackermanns on their cover crop mix, which resulted in a five bushel per acre gain. Using cover crops has also allowed them to navigate through weather extremes of too wet, too dry and too hot with much better results than they ever had previously with conventional tillage.
The past two years, the Ackermanns have terminated the cover crop in the corn after planting, giving them approximately 30 weed-free days, then interseeded and side-dressed at V-3 to V-4 to stay weed free the rest of the growing season. On soybeans, the covers are terminated after planting and followed later with one post application of herbicide.
As producers in Minnesota, one of the challenges they face with cover crops is the timing of seedings, as the window is shorter than states farther south. A few years ago, the Ackermanns also had a setback with aerial seeding into a soybean field that was still too green. The cereal rye grew two to three inches and then died due to lack of sunlight. Herbicide carry-over or the type of herbicide can also affect some cover crop species.
The Ackermanns have not let these challenges hinder their progress and their motivation to keep improving their soil and the success of their operation. Over the years, the Ackermanns have been conducting extensive on-farm research with the Heron Lake Watershed District, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) and the University of Minnesota. The Ackermanns have explored many aspects of cover crops, such as their effect on nutrient management, crop rotations, soil health, wildlife populations, soil temperatures and much more. Through these trials, they have proven that the cover crops create faster soil warmup in the spring, cooler soil temperatures in the heat of summer and incredible water infiltration and water holding capacity. The Ackermanns have also found easier weed control, better nutrient holding capacity, and less plant health issues.
The Ackermanns are former winners of the Jackson County Conservationist of the Year Award and have implemented water and sediment control basins, grass waterways and buffer strips with the Jackson County SWCD. They are current mentors with the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition and have their Minnesota Water Quality Certification.
Updated April 2020.