NRCS team Obermeyer farm 2017

A team from NRCS checks the cover crop research area on the Obermeyer farm. Last year it was planted to turnips and collards. The photo is rye and oat strips following wheat in September 2017.

Daryl Obermeyer grew up in Nemaha County, graduated from Auburn High School and then headed to University of Nebraska-Lincoln to pursue a degree in ag economics.

Obermeyer and his wife Jackie started at zero when it came to launch their farming operation.

“I like numbers and I like farming,” Obermeyer said.

His father rented farm land, so he and his wife were the first generation of landowners. When Obermeyer struck out on his own, he rented his first farm from a neighbor and borrowed machinery by exchanging labor with another farmer. Now he owns the farm he grew up on, located on loamy soils southwest of Brownville, Nebraska.

Growing up, farming was “work,” Obermeyer said, giving a one-word description. They raised cattle and hogs and grew corn, soybeans, wheat, oats and alfalfa.

Cattle was always his biggest interest, he said, and he started his herd with Brangus breed cattle, then switched to Simmental.

“I have gotten older — I wanted cattle with a better attitude,” he said.

Many of the changes he’s made on his farm have been spurred time savings, fuel savings, and an effort to curb erosion on the hill ground.

Obermeyer’s is a dryland farm, which was one impetus to embrace conservation practices like cover crops.

“There is hardly enough water under the farm we own for a house well,” he said.

He bought his first land in 1983 and has been no-till since 1986. The next year, he started using cover crops.

“I don’t think I called it a cover crop, but I would seed wheat on ground that was going into soybeans,” he said.

He grew a little for pasture and spring weed control. On dry years, he saw a yield drag because of the wheat, he said. Then he tried using oats if the crop came out early because the cattle would still have something to graze in the fall. Having roots and some residue in the spring helped control erosion.

If the wheat field is close to a pasture, he plants cover crops after harvest so the cattle have forage to graze in the late summer and again in the spring when it greens up. If his plan is to use a spring burndown, he plants rye, turnips and radishes. For winter-kill cover crop, he uses oats, turnips and radishes.

In late August, he has an airplane seed a couple quarter sections, usually with a straight rye cover crop, so he can use them for winter grazing. He has also experimented with cow peas, rapeseed and collard greens in various mixes, but he hasn’t seen as much benefit from them.

Obermeyer’s farming operation consists of a three-year rotation of corn, soybeans and wheat. On wheat that is not close to a pasture, he plants a double crop of soybeans. Sometimes the beans get planted as late as July 15, and he still has yields over 30 bushels per acre.

He aims to plant by late June when yields are typically around 40 bushes.

“I like the soybeans because they don’t require as much labor,” he said. “When you harvest 60-bushel soybeans instead of. 250-bushel corn, you don’t need near the labor.”

When he first got a yield monitor, he realized there was a yield bump with corn and soybeans following wheat. Even though wheat is not a high revenue crop for Obermeyer, it benefits the corn and soybean yields the following years, he said. He raises yellow corn for livestock feed. The rest of his corn is white, which brings a premium on the price.

With cattle built into the foundation of the farm, cover crops just make sense, Obermeyer said.

His calves are born in June, which he likes because there is sunlight from 4:30 a.m. until 10 p.m., making it easier to watch cattle.

He weans around Thanksgiving, puts them on feed, and sell some after they are bunk broke. The rest are fattened and sold privately.

Obermeyer also raises chickens with his granddaughter, and she sells the eggs. They have some rabbits, miniature horses and goats.

“My granddaughter wants to be a veterinarian and is very serious about it,” he said.

Daryl and Jackie have three grown children. Jackie serves as head of surgery at Nemaha County Hospital.

Community and civic duties are important to the couple. Daryl spent several years as the Nemaha County Farm Bureau president and was on the Auburn School Board for 20 years. He is currently on the Nebraska Soybean Checkoff Board. He has also been the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coop Weather Observer for Auburn since 1977. He serves as the church council president and has led youth programs for the Knights of Columbus and the Optimist Club. Jackie and Daryl are both board members on the Brownville Village Theater.

With all his service commitments, he made time to participate in a research opportunity being supported by the Nebraska Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Health Initiative and the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network. The testing includes use winter-kill cover crops and winter-hardy cover crops needing a spring burn down.

“I like the winter-kill idea because it is letting Mother Nature kill the cover crop, rather than having to apply another herbicide,” he said.

The research is looking at water infiltration, organic matter, yield and microbial life. Obermeyer has learned a lot about earth worms through his practices.

“The earth worms are so thick that they go out of their holes and drag plant residue underground,” he said. “They really benefit the soil but they also eat a lot.”

The partnership with NRCS and the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network is facilitating a facts-based analysis of the experiences Obermeyer has had with cover crops. Obermeyer’s idea is now playing out in a research quality project laid out in a simple enough way to apply right on his own field. The on-farm research allows the community to attend field days locally, too, and see the results firsthand. The partners help with the sampling and yield data.

One example of how much cover crops are worth happened the summer of 2016 when Obermeyer had a hail and windstorm. It stripped the leaves off the corn. Obermeyer had cover crop seed flown on in mid-August, planting rye, turnips, radishes, cowpeas and rape seed. Then it rained an inch-and-a-half.

“By the time I harvested the corn, I had a jungle out there,” he said.

He put 50 cow-calf pairs on that quarter section to graze for three months that fall. He fed them only one round bale in that time.

“That was probably the biggest success I have ever had,” he said.

For now, Obermeyer looks forward to learning from the research and continues life as a farmer.

“I enjoy it. Even though I put in a lot of hours as a farmer, I am free to work the hours I want to work,” he said. “I would make the world’s worst employee.”

He maintains that a farm is a great place to raise kids. All three of their kids learned to drive their standard transmission truck by helping build fence.

“We had them all three go to college driving standard transmission cars. So, none of them would have any pressure of having anyone wanting to borrow their cars,” he said.

That sort of common sense thinking, from college cars to cover crops, is something he said all farmers can relate to.

“Farmers who have not pursued cover crops and other types of conservation practices should really consider the savings on fertilizer, capturing water runoff, and providing feed for livestock,” he said. “It takes management to do this, but it’s worth it.”

Kerry Hoffschneider can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.