MONTELLO, Wis. – Zeb Zuehls of Montello will be one of Agri-View’s “From the Fields” producer-reporters for the 2018 planting season. Vice-president of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, he devotes time off Zuehls Farms to corn-grower policy development.
Zuehls operates his home farm in south-central Wisconsin and another he purchased five years ago — 1,100 acres in Marquette and Green Lake counties. A fourth-generation farmer, he’s assisted by his father, Ron Zuehls. The pair has no employees. Zeb Zuehls’ wife, Melanie Zuehls, works off the farm as health-care coordinator. The couple has four children – Olivia, 11, Tenley, 7, Ashlynn, 4, and Zaelynn, 1.
Zeb Zuehls graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Farm and Industry Short Course. Today while farming he also does custom work – planting, combining and large-square baling. He covers another 1,500 acres doing custom farming.
Zuehls usually grows corn, food-grade soybeans, alfalfa, and small grains such as oats, rye and winter wheat. But in 2018 his crop mix might be somewhat different; he may not plant corn.
“I feel bad, being vice-president of the Wisconsin Corn Growers,” Zuehls said. “But this is what looks good on paper.”
He said he’ll probably grow alfalfa-orchardgrass hay, harvested in big squares, on 40 percent of his acres. About 10 percent will be devoted to small grains, with the remainder to food-grade soybeans. Rye is retained as seed for his own cover-cropping. The oats are cattle feed for a small herd of beef cattle; he also sells hay to customers. The herd is mostly 4-H projects, though Zuehls said he wants to increase numbers for more direct-to-customer beef sales.
Zuehls farms lighter sandy soil, though he also has muck, or peat soil, and clay. About 350 acres are irrigated.
“We’re always a week away from a drought,” he said.
He said 60 percent of his acres are in cover crops but he’s aiming for 100 percent. In 2017 he terminated his winter rye after planting.
All the land Zuehls farms is either strip-tilled or no-tilled. He said he tried strip-till for the first time in 2017 to eliminate passes, build soil productivity, conserve moisture and prevent interference of a growing cover crop at planting.
“And being part of Corn Growers, I want to set a good example,” he said of conservation.
He relies on technologies such as auto-steer, grid soil sampling and variable-rate fertilizer applications.
Zuehls said he wanted to farm because he grew up doing it.
“It’s tough right now,” he said. “There are days when I have doubts. But you keep fighting through.”
In good and tough times, he said it’s important to be a good steward of the land and involved off the farm.