Although they prefer to farm most of their land no-till and the rest minimum-till, Kris Swartz and his father, Robert, shared a problem with other farmers near Perrysburg, Ohio.
When following wheat with corn, they chiseled the wheat stubble immediately after harvest and knocked it down with a big drag. The next spring, they'd plant corn directly into the stale seedbed.
The negative side of this was that it left the ground basically bare for many months. Wind erosion was a big concern, and even though the land is flat, heavy fall and winter rains tended to wash fields badly. The same effect was experienced in soybean stubble destined for corn the next spring.
Also, the results were rather inconsistent, according to Kris Swartz.
"The stubble often stayed too wet and gooey. And it would harbor disease organisms that could later stunt the corn," he says.
To the rescue has come an unlikely source. The Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments was looking for a solution to its own two vexing problems.
Most of Wood County drains into the Maumee River, which empties into Toledo Harbor of Lake Erie. Constant dredging has been required to remove the sediment to provide enough freeboard for ships coming into the port. There was also the continual issue of water quality to consider.
"This was a tremendous problem," Swartz points out. "So some of us farmers decided to become a little proactive to get something done before we were regulated into complying with new laws.
"Farmers are a small minority today, so I think we have to be a little more aggressive in tackling such problems before the rest of the public comes to us to complain — and to regulate us."
In an attempt to reduce erosion and silt moving down river, the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments gave a grant to the Wood County Soil and Water Conservation District.
The money was used to purchase a DMI strip-tillage tool, a 12-row unit that injects dry fertilizer and also applies anhydrous ammonia. It's rented out to farmers at a minimal charge of $4 an acre.
The tool makes ridges into which the corn is planted the following spring. The ridges are clean of stubble, yet enough residue is left between them to protect the soil from either washing or blowing during the winter months.
"We're still in the beginning of the learning curve using it in our heavy, tight clay soils," Swartz says. "We've made some modifications this second year and think this will be the solution to our previous erosion and planting troubles."
Another area being addressed in a three-county area is an intensive effort to establish grass filter strips with payments coming from an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant. This has been well-received by both farmers and the public, according to Swartz.
He and his father have been no-tilling their soybeans and wheat and minimum-tilling their corn for a dozen years.
"We didn't drop off any in yields," he says, "and these tillage practices reduce our labor needs while making us better off economically."
Kris Swartz's Corn Plots Yield
Strip-till — 173.1 bu/ac
No-till — 174.7 bu/ac
Wood County Corn Plots (25 fields)
Strip-till — 174.6
No-till — 170.7
Strip-till provided a $8.91-per-acre higher net return than no-till in the Wood County plots.