PRESTON, Minn. – Increasing profits when commodity prices are depressed is attainable.
That’s according to presenters at a Land Stewardship Project workshop held this past month in Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota.
Minnesota producers Dawn and Grant Breitkreutz of Redwood Falls, Tom Cotter of Austin and Myron Sylling of Spring Grove shared success stories with using cover crops, no-till planting, strip-tilling and grazing. They were able to create a profit in both beef and crops on their respective farms.
The commonality among the four farmers comes from their willingness to learn, innovate and experiment.
“That’s the fun of this,” Dawn Breitkreutz said. “No one has to be there to tell us what to do.”
Although all are conventional farmers, they have cut their use of herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers while increasing yields and animal health. Grant Breitkreutz said he can work in the field when others can’t after rainy weather. Sylling has been able to eliminate his waterways, giving him more places to plant row crops.
The key lies with having healthy soil resulting in healthy plant roots, according to the farmers.
“We can go to the moon but we don’t know what’s in our soil,” Breitkreutz said. “Fixing soil biology for profit should be the No. 1 concern.”
Improvements in soil health on the three farms come primarily from the use of cover crops, but not just the usual fall-planted rye. They have branched out to use multispecies crops. The brassicas, forage and grasses all work together, Breitkreutz said. He uses three of each and as many as a total of 14. But he cautions that anyone wanting to try multispecies cover crops should work with their supplier to procure seed that will work on his or her farm. He said the use of cover crops has given him a gain of $190 an acre from extra feed as well as a decrease in fertilizer and herbicides.
Cotter has been doing more extreme experimenting with cover crops, planting as many as 17 different species of seeds in his strip-till corn. He said interseeding is nothing new; it was done by Native Americans. He plants different mixtures throughout the year, depending on the crops he’s growing and the “what, where and when” of what he wants to graze.
Sylling is just starting with the use of multispecies cover crops.
Innovative and cheap describes the equipment used to plant cover crops. Breitkreutz adapted a no-till drill to interseed his corn while Cotter made a drill out of two rotary hoes. Planting cover crops can happen as late as freeze-up in December. Sylling frost-seeds in the spring before the ground thaws.
The advantages of using a variety of seeds include more nutrients for the cattle to use, more flexibility in use of the fields for grazing and a longer grazing year. For Breitkreutz and Cotter, grazing starts before planting and ends in December or January.
When the Breitkreutz couple started their adventure with alternative methods, there was not much information or help for them to use. But that has changed; now there is information readily available. All these farmers are dedicated to passing on what they have learned to encourage and inform others who are interested in changing.
“You have to decide you are going to change and you’re going to make it work,” Breitkreutz warns.
Dawn Breitkreutz said, “You have to plan far ahead and be flexible. It’s kind of fun to keep the neighbors guessing.”
The best reason for using the cover crops can be found in the future.
Grant Breitkreutz said, “God blessed us with this life. We must leave it in better shape for the next generation.”