Noah Seim remembered well the farm sale from when he was 5 years old.
“Everything my dad and two uncles had worked for was up for sale. You don’t forget something like that,” Seim said. “A very good friend of my dad’s told him, ‘You are always going to be looking over your shoulder, aren’t you?’ My dad said, ‘Probably until I die.’”
The 1980s Farm Crisis impacted many Nebraska families in a multitude of ways. And while the experience certainly impacted the Kenyon and Cheryl Seim family, they have proven that they are ever looking forward, while never forgetting the past. Noah Seim is the oldest son of their four children; Anthony and Christopher also work on the farm full time, and Jacob is employed by Greenline Equipment in Grand Island and still comes home to help often.
“I was in a tractor at 10 years old, doing jobs by myself like shredding stalks, cultivating and hilling corn. We ran the grain cart, too, and there was always a lot of irrigation pipe,” Seim said, recalling his formative years. “It is something in your blood. It’s hard to describe.
“Going through the ‘80s, my dad told us all we needed to get off the farm and get an education, so we did. But, in the back of my mind, I always wanted to come back.”
After graduating high school in 1999, Seim went to community college in Grand Island and earned an associate’s degree in civil engineering and ended up working for Olsson and Associates doing survey work, construction observation and materials testing.
Seim said that position helped him develop social skills while overseeing contractors and being the point-person for and area’s businesses and residents.
In 2009, his father gave him and his brothers the option to have shares in new rental ground he had obtained.
The Seim family continued to move forward with the farming business and has always tried to diversify what they are doing to make things work, he said. They grow seed corn, commercial corn and soybeans. Keynon runs the trucking side of the business, and sells irrigation flow meters and weather stations.
Soil health came into the picture because it made sense in seed corn production, Seim said.
“I guess you could say we started not really understanding the full benefits of what we were doing,” he said.
For as long as he could remember, his dad planted radishes and turnips with the seed corn and the cows always liked it. The family doesn’t have their own cattle, but they work with producers that appreciate the livestock feed the cover crops provide.
About 10 years ago, Dean Krull, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln employee who works out of the Central Platte Natural Resources District, started talking with Kenyon because their farm is in a Phase 3 nitrogen area, meaning they have to do 0 to 36-inch soil sampling for additional nitrogen. They also do reports that look at nitrate levels in the water.
The Seims follow that when deciding what to apply based on yield goals. They are also not allowed to apply fall anhydrous. There are different regulations throughout the district, and the Seims are in the highest monitoring phase.
The family farms in very sandy soils, and in most areas they hit sand and gravel at about 28 inches below the surface. Nitrogen scavenging studies using the radishes and turnips showed what could be pulled out of the soil in the winter and re-released in the spring. They showed it was working.
About four years ago, they tried interseeding commercial corn using the high-boy and broadcast seeder. Two years ago, they purchased a Hiniker Interseeder row unit, used to plant two cover crop rows, 10 inches apart, centered in the 30 inches before the two corn rows.
The Seims also started working with Krull on different mix designs. The last two years, covers have been planted when corn was at the V-7 or V-8 stage, which they found was too late.
“The cover crops must be planted when the timing is right,” Seim said.
Last year, they planted at V-4 and will do a burn-down of the cover crop before planting this spring. They look for the cover crop to suppress weeds and plant into standing covers, then do a post-planting spray.
Working with Krull led to entering the Nebraska Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Health Initiative.
“We wanted to get a farm into the study to gain some more legitimacy to what we were already seeing in the field,” Seim said. “By being in with NRCS and UNL, it only brings more people into seeing the benefits. It also brings in the ability to do the actual sampling and being verified and not just us sitting in the coffee shop telling people we are doing this. It’s the science behind it.”
In the project field, they interseeded cover crops into commercial corn at the V-4 stage and compared with dormant seeding cover crops behind the combine and planting nothing at all. The study was set up in randomized strips across 70 pivot irrigated acres.
Beyond the research site, there are several acres the Seim family farms where they are seeing benefits. Seim liked what he saw in the soybean rotation by drilling 30 to 40 pounds of rye with the crop.
“The infiltration rate difference is amazing,” he said.
Thirty-five years ago, they had a slough that wound through an 80-acre field there. For as long as Siem could remember, you could always pick out that wet area.
“Now it is barely visible at all. It’s incredible,” he said.
They had some of their best luck with scenarios that may not make sense. A couple years ago, Kenyon was seeking more affordable cover crop options. They went with six pounds of cereal rye and four pounds of red clover and have seen it work.
“We get a good stand and are seeing a lot of weed suppression out of our cover crops and the soil health benefits, too,” Seim said.
Some people have told them it doesn’t work and they are fools, he said, but it only makes them strive harder to make it successful. He looks for the research to back them up.
“We will share the failures and successes. We are always looking at what we can do better,” he said.
Kerry Hoffschneider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.