Central Platte Natural Resources District
Father, grandfather, and third generation farmer Dean Krull lives and farms with his wife Nancy in the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District. His daughter Ashley and son-in-law Trevor Scheil own and operate C-N Ag, which sells pivot irrigation systems, grain bins, and buildings, and his son Mitchell manages an aerial applicator business in Hastings, Nebraska.
Dean, an educator at the University of Nebraska, has promoted best management practices through the Central Platte Natural Resources District for 36 years.”My situation is rather unusual in that I’m not only an educator and promotor of soil health practices, I’m also a producer that utilizes these practices in my own operation,” he says.
Dean’s been using no-till for 18 years, and five years ago, he started drilling rye cover into an irrigated corn/soybean rotation. “Quite honestly, the main reason I transitioned from conventional tillage to no-till was to free up time to attend my children’s extra-curricular activities,” he told NACD. “Since then, an apparent change has occurred, especially with water erosion and a noticeable change in soil tilth.” As a result of using cover crops, he says his fields’ water infiltration has improved and his organic matter content levels have increased 1.5 percent.
Dean works with his local NRCS office to conduct annual soil health evaluations and experiment with new soil health practices. Right now, Dean is exploring the benefits of using different pivot sprinklers by comparing narrow spaced in-canopy installations to out-of-canopy installations. “In theory, more water is being applied in the soil profile where it belongs with a narrow spaced in-canopy installation,” he explained. “If we’re right and this is the case, these systems would improve irrigation efficiency and save water.”
“Like most producers that have transitioned to no-till, I’ve had issues handling the residue, especially from irrigated corn. I once plugged up the planter so badly I had to take a tractor and loader and pick up the pile,” Dean mused. “I’ve since learned that ‘if it’s dewy in the morning, have another cup of coffee or two before you go to the field to plant.'”
Dean says producers need two things: the willingness to change their management strategies, and the patience to stick with the changes, even when the benefits aren’t instantaneous. For him, termination of cover crops was one of management steps that required the most patience. For several seasons, Dean terminated his cover crop early when there was little above-ground biomass. With experience and time, he learned to delay termination and allow for more biomass growth.
According to him, the biggest barrier to the adoption of conservation practices is “old habits and farming practices that have been used for years.” To surmount the challenge, Dean says “education is the key.”
“The Central Platte NRD/University of Nebraska Demonstration Program, gives both organizations the ability to present research and results through field days, news articles, videos, and social media,” he said. “Efforts to educate producers on the value of no-till and cover crops should, and will, promote the adoption of soil health practices.”