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Jimmy Emmons and Loran Steinlage have built dynamic, profitable no-till operations, but the challenges they face are very different. Jimmy no-tills cash crops and raises livestock in hot, dry western Oklahoma, while Loran uses a variety of creative planting systems to no-till several different crops in a veritable stew of soil types in eastern Iowa.

For this No-Till Farmer podcast, sponsored by Yetter Farm Equipment, Jimmy and Loran were joined by moderator Rick Clark at the 2022 National No-Tillage Conference in Louisville, Ky., to share the management tactics they’ve relied on to achieve no-till success in such differing climates, including how they’ve incorporated cover crops, managed water infiltration issues and how they’re preparing their operations for the future.

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Yetter Farm Equipment has been providing farmers with solutions since 1930. Today, Yetter is your answer for finding the tools and equipment you need to face today’s production agriculture demands. The Yetter lineup includes a wide range of planter attachments for different planting conditions, several equipment options for fertilizer placement, and products that meet harvest-time challenges. Yetter delivers a return on investment and equipment that meets your needs and maximizes inputs. Visit them at yetterco.com.

 

Full Transcript

Julia Gerlach:

Welcome to the No-Till Farmer podcast, brought to you today by Yetter Farm Equipment. I'm Julia Gerlach, Executive Editor for No-Till Farmer. I encourage you to subscribe to the series, which is available on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher Radio, and TuneIn Radio. Subscribing will allow you to receive an alert about new episodes when they're released.

Julia Gerlach:

I'd like to take a moment to thank Yetter Farm Equipment for sponsoring today's episode. Yetter Farm Equipment has been providing farmers with solutions since 1930.

Julia Gerlach:

Today Yetter is your answer for finding the tools and equipment you need to face today's production agriculture demands. The Yetter lineup includes a wide range of planter attachments for different planting conditions, several equipment options for fertilizer placement, and products that meet harvest-time challenges. Yetter delivers a return on investment and equipment that meets your needs and maximizes inputs. Visit them at yetterco.com. That's Y-E-T-T-E-R-C-O.com.

Julia Gerlach:

Jimmy Emmons and Loran Steinlage have both built dynamic, profitable no-till operations, but the challenges they face are very different. Jimmy no-tills cash crops and raises livestock in hot, dry western Oklahoma while Loran uses a variety of creative planting systems to no-till several different crops in a veritable stew of soil types and eastern Iowa.

Julia Gerlach:

For this No-Till Farmer podcast, Jimmy and Loran were joined by moderator Rick Clark at the 2022 National No-Tillage Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, to share the management tactics they’ve relied on to achieve no-till success in such differing climates, including how they’ve incorporated cover crops, managed water infiltration issues, and how they’re preparing their operations for the future.

Julia Gerlach:

First, we'll get some background from Jimmy and Loran, and then Rick will join in with some questions of his own and from the conference attendees.

Jimmy Emmons:

Jimmy Emmons from Northwest Oklahoma. I live about 40 miles below the panhandle of Oklahoma and about 35 miles in from the state of Texas. My great-granddad brought my granddad and two other brothers and two sisters up in 1926. And so, he saw the place that we call the home place in 1926. He said, "Dad, this is where I want to stay." We've been there ever since. My wife Ginger and I still own and operate that farm, as well as a few others around that connect to it.

Jimmy Emmons:

We used to raise just wheat and some cotton and alfalfa. Was very traditional farming, heavy tillage. That's what grandad knew, even though he couldn't plow all the farm early on, because there's just too many acres to get over with a team. Then later, more horsepower, we started farming everything.

Jimmy Emmons:

Then I came along and we started farming more and bigger. In about 1995, I met Dr. Dwayne Beck, big inspiration. Helped us start getting no-tilling. Then we done that for a few years.

Jimmy Emmons:

I was still on the mindset of clean and not enough residue. And so, it wasn't working very good. Lots of pressure from granddad and dad because that's not the way to do it.

Jimmy Emmons:

Then I lost both of them within a year. Then the game pressure's on. Do I stay the course or do I fall back into a rut and do what I've always done? I chose to stay the course.

Jimmy Emmons:

Then in 2010, I met David Grant, and he inspired me more to start cover crops in western Oklahoma in a 20-inch rainfall, give or take 20 inches. Literally that's the way it is. In 2011, we had 9.7 inches. In 2012, we had 7.3. In 2014, we had 25.3 the month of May.

Jimmy Emmons:

So it's been a long journey. In 2018, then we had the big wildfire that consumed 300,000 acres in our county. It burned half of our operation out. We lost two landlord's homes. We lost one shop and some equipment and some cattle.

Jimmy Emmons:

It's been quite a journey, but I've stayed the course. I'd like to tell everybody I like Texas Hold'em. I'm all in when I got a good hand, and I think I got a good hand with regen ag. And so, that's where I'm at.

 Loran Steinlage:

I guess I'm fortunate, man. I was born and raised in northeast Iowa, God's country, more affectionately known as. Through my history, my career really started changing when I was at six weeks old. My dad was burnt 75% over his body. Pretty much was not supposed to farm after that.

 Loran Steinlage:

Technology has been a very big aspect of our farming operation in that as we've transitioned through the years. So when we get up here and start talking, I love talking technology and stuff like that. That's been a backbone to what's got me where I'm at today.

 Loran Steinlage:

I bought into the family farm. I believe it was 1986 when I took my first note. We were a full dairy livestock operation through the years. Shortly after that, I was hit by a semi. One thing led to another. I cannot be around livestock.

 Loran Steinlage:

So that's been some of the biggest curve balls in my life. I've never tried to let stuff like that get me down. I've always springboarded off a downturn and it's just kept pushing me forward.

 Loran Steinlage:

As we started having to take livestock away, I've always been an iron and steel guy. So I focus on fine-tuning stuff, learning how to build it, customize it. That's what brought me to where I'm at today.

 Loran Steinlage:

I've taken a job with Dawn Equipment full time now. I still farm. That's part of my basis. But last week, I probably had the most fun I've had in a long time. I got to go out in Mississippi and get down one-on-one with farmers. That's what I really enjoy, when you sit there and start taking time learning what's going wrong, how to help guys figure it out.

Rick Clark:

Hey, good morning, everybody. Again, we want this to be as interactive as possible. But before we take a question from you folks, I want to expand. Loran, you guys are 800 miles apart. How in the world can what you do pertain to what Jimmy does? Could you elaborate just a little bit more on that, please?

 Loran Steinlage:

Well, probably the biggest thing I see between us is the management styles. My biggest issue is excess moisture.

Rick Clark:

And cold weather.

 Loran Steinlage:

And cold weather.

Jimmy Emmons:

I don't understand that.

Rick Clark:

No.

Jimmy Emmons:

It's called lack of.

 Loran Steinlage:

But we often call each other and share ideals. When you go back to the basic core principles, the five principles, that's-

Rick Clark:

So it doesn't matter where we are. Those five principles always prevail.

 Loran Steinlage:

Now you bring forth the six principle, the context.

Rick Clark:

Right.

 Loran Steinlage:

The biggest thing, one of our peers told me once upon a time, and I want to interject that on the context aspect, do not let that become an excuse.

Jimmy Emmons:

The thing about it is how you manage, whether it's raining six inches or 60 inches. It's all in the management. I have to watch every drop, so I have to watch my population on cover crops and as well as cash crops. I also have to manage that heat factor that we get in the summertime, water use efficiency in plants. If we get in that wet year like in 2014, I can plant green like you do. I can plant green like Loran does. But that's very, very seldom because water is essential for us. We try to catch every raindrop where it falls and utilize that to the maximum.

Rick Clark:

So, Jimmy, with your arid environment, what's your elevation?

Jimmy Emmons:

About 2300.

Rick Clark:

2300 feet elevation, fairly arid environment. Are you planting a cocktail of one or two species, or are you planting cocktails with multiple species?

Jimmy Emmons:

We're multiple. Most of my summer mixes are 15 to 18, 20 wave blends. Our cool seasons are anywhere from three to nine. It depends on our goals and our process. But once again, we got to manage that population. If we're dry in them summer mixes, we stay with the blend. We just might not plant as much. If we got a little extra moisture and we have that opportunity to gain more, then we'll up that rate on the go.

Jimmy Emmons:

For the cattle, what kind of feed? Make sure that I have that diversity in there to have good quality feeds. So the cattle, and now we're getting in the goat business as well, really compliments the cash.

Rick Clark:

It gives you exit plans. If the rain doesn't come, you thought you were going to raise the corn crop, but now we've got to move on.

Jimmy Emmons:

Right.

Rick Clark:

Yeah. Now, Loran, I'd like for you to elaborate a little bit. You're very big into this relay. Explain what that is. Are you getting diversity with your cover crop packages?

 Loran Steinlage:

Jimmy brought up the relay. One of the first things I thought of right away is go back to what Jimmy said there. The reason relay works for me and probably not for him is our moisture situation. Traditionally, we would get a strong wet spell the first part of June, somewhere in there. It replenishes our water table.

 Loran Steinlage:

But the essential of the relay cropping is we go in in the fall, plant a cereal crop. In the spring, we'll come in and plant the soybeans. July, we'll go in and harvest the cereal crop. Then in the fall, we harvest the soybeans.

 Loran Steinlage:

I mean some of the things we've learned over the years is just learning the maturities and stuff like that. That's the networking in that. I didn't invent relay cropping, but 2013 I think is when I met a guy named John Cootes, a guy out in Nebraska, Shane Greving. They're doing it at essentially the same latitude as I'm at. Shane gave up on it because he doesn't get the moisture situation. John, he's thrived over the years. He's the inspiration for most guys doing it.

 Loran Steinlage:

But what we're really seeing now is we've started to build out the network. Once we started understanding the relay cropping, and the companion cropping and all that becomes in. But I probably should back up and tell you the way we got into relay cropping was pretty easy.

 Loran Steinlage:

My cover crop experience did not start with cereal rye. I was all traditional corn-on-corn. We were feeding cattle stuff like that. So my introduction about 2006, I think it was, we started looking at the earlier inner seed, V4, V5, or back then it was about V7, V8, everybody was talking. But the more we learned, we kept pushing that forward.

 Loran Steinlage:

As we built into that, we built the right tools, the right pieces, had them in place. As soon as I'd seen what John's doing, I'm like we've got the tools to do it. I can start doing it. It was an easy transition once you start understanding the principles, and that would fast forward to where we're at now. Now we're looking at our cover crops. When you talk diversity, we're starting to figure out how to turn our cover crops into cash crops.

 Loran Steinlage:

Everybody asks how are we going to make cover crops pay? If we can start making them cash crops, I don't need the best crops when I start pulling two or three different species of crop off of farm every year. The same symbiotic relationship on the cover crops happens on our cash crops once we start figuring that out.

 Loran Steinlage:

Derek Axten in Saskatchewan's one of my best friends right now. I love talking to him and understanding what he's doing. Totally different environment. You think Jimmy's dry? Derek, a good year's six inches.

Jimmy Emmons:

But I think the key thing, Loran, is when you mentioned about how dry, I mean relay's a bigger challenge. Well, it can be. If you do it wrong, it cannot work out. What I tried was sesame, which sesame is a desert plant, does very well for us. If you can get sesame up, you can grow in on hardly nothing and harvest a good crop. And so, then I put a sweet clover crop in with that.

Jimmy Emmons:

And so, the idea of that was to stay in the lower canopy, just sit there over the summer and then over winter. Then after we harvest the sesame off, then next spring, next summer, we'll harvest that clover crop.

Jimmy Emmons:

What I didn't count on, and this was double crop sesame as well behind the barley crop, was that the sesame done exceptionally well and canopied over, and was almost too much canopy for the clover to get established.

Jimmy Emmons:

Now the game is still afoot, and we don't know yet how the clover's going to be. It's there. We'll see how that does in the spring. So I'm not out of the game yet. I'm still in the game.

Jimmy Emmons:

Worst-case scenario is we don't have enough clover. It still generates nitrogen for us. We'll go to plan B and we'll plant another crop up in the spring there. So as we all learn this even 800 miles apart, it's about how you adapt that to your local environment and your local climate and make that work.

 Loran Steinlage:

I want to carry on with the moisture management conversation there, because I think that's the biggest critical thing that just finds a lot of us. Original reason I got into some of the cover cropping aspect in that was moisture management. We're 100% pattern tiled into my area. The problem is it was done back in the '70s. Everything's too far apart.

 Loran Steinlage:

Well, I started looking into it and I had two options. I could start learning how to grow the moisture out more or spend a lot of money on tile. I'm a German. Simple description, I guess. I'm frugal.

Rick Clark:

Stubborn?

 Loran Steinlage:

Yeah. If I can figure out a way not to spend money, that's the way we're going. So minimum expense was cover crops. We started going that way. But now as we keep talking about evolving, I've evolved to the point now we've built our water holding capacity to the point where we can actually hold ... I've done studies where we actually show we can hold 50% moisture than my neighboring soil. We got the infiltration levels.

 Loran Steinlage:

This summer, a couple of guys were out. We were in the 20-plus range on the infiltration. It goes back to where we're at now. Now we're sitting at a point I'm starting to get the side-hill seeps and all that going again. So what am I going to do? Am I going to go back and pattern tile everything, or am I going to figure out how to put it to that next level and continue growing out more moisture?

 Loran Steinlage:

So that's why the relay cropping and that is coming to the forefront more and more. I think a few people were shocked when I said I might not grow corn this year. I can turn the profit that will blow 250 bushel an acre corn away with a relay crop. I'm getting locked into a little bit of a rotation glitch right now. But I know it's a stepping stool right now, so I'm not going to get hooked on that specific rotation.

Rick Clark:

Loran, let's go back to this relay. You went through it pretty quick. What does your planner look like, or your drill look like, in the fall when you're establishing the cereal rye or the cereal grain, whatever it is?

 Loran Steinlage:

When we started out, we were pretty simple. I took a drill, I swooped ... The defining moment for the inner seed and the relay cropping was when I took a drill and started flip-flopping the rows around. I think that was like 2013-14. All of a sudden we had things that fit.

 Loran Steinlage:

So granted we've upgraded drills and all that now, but we built a drill out of the [dual-seed 00:16:12] drill units that were set up on 822s, basically a 30-inch center row. We'll go in there, twin row our cover crops.

 Loran Steinlage:

Right now we've went the full gamut. I started out high rate and then I heard everybody talking, oh, we can lower rates in that. Well, after this year, I'm not going to lower rates again because we've got some pretty good data that shows a good stand of cereal rye improves our bean yield.

Rick Clark:

Yeah. Right.

 Loran Steinlage:

So, yes, I'm going for bean yield, but I'm also going for maximum cereal rye. So that brings us to spring. We've used to use the same drill to put the soybeans in. When we went to food-grade beans on that, I needed to start figuring out how to meter them beans better. So, again, I'm frugal. A cheap Cyclo planter was out there, bought a shifting hitch. We switched that over. We were planting a relay crop with a $3,500 planter.

Rick Clark:

So now your tractor's running and not driving on the cereal rye.

 Loran Steinlage:

Correct.

Rick Clark:

You're now planting in the middles between it because you've shifted the hitch on the-

 Loran Steinlage:

Yes. To keep progressing, this year, we were supposed to get a change of gears. I've been controlled traffic since, I think, 2009 is when we officially were controlled traffic. So all my tram lines are in the same row. But this year I was going to break that tradition. I bought a tractor just for the relay planter that we're going to have on 90-inch centers now. So now I no longer need the shifting hitch.

 Loran Steinlage:

When you start doing some of the stuff we're doing, programming the GPS, and that really gets entertaining when you start dealing offsets and that. So we're constantly looking at improving on all that.

 Loran Steinlage:

Then now we'll talk the harvest portion of the relay a little bit. Originally, I got John Cootes' blocker guards, which is basically a lifter guard that he made, that pushes the soybean down so we can harvest the rye. That worked pretty good.

Rick Clark:

So we're right around July, the first week in July.

 Loran Steinlage:

Traditionally for me in northern Iowa, we're probably in that July 20th. I used to say it was the earliest I've ever harvested rye. Mother Nature threw us a curve ball this year, and we were 4th of July, I think, is when we started cutting rye this year.

Rick Clark:

So typically what growth stage are these soybeans in at this point, typically?

 Loran Steinlage:

That's the hard part to define because every year's going to be different.

Rick Clark:

Well ...

 Loran Steinlage:

The biggest thing we've learned over the years is the maturity of soybean. I mean I'm in northern Iowa, 43-degree north latitude. So when I tell people this year I had 3.4 to 3.9 beans, that scares a few people.

 Loran Steinlage:

But what we figured out is we've got to have that soybean in a vegetative state when we take the cereal crop off, because the best description is it hits a reset button and that plant starts thinking you've got to go to maturity. If you're into maturity already, it'll just say done. I'll guarantee you, you've got 10 bushel beans. But we've had 70, 80 bushel beans on the relay now.

Rick Clark:

But these are things that you're constantly testing. That's why you've come to these conclusions. You collect data and you look at that data.

 Loran Steinlage:

Yeah. I mean we've actually collected data since I think '94 is some of the first data we collected. I'm not anal about it, but I do sit down every year. I don't care how accurate the yield monitor is calibrated. What I do care is that it's consistent. I don't care if this one was 250 bushel an acre to 10 bushel an acre. What I care is that difference.

 Loran Steinlage:

My mindset used to be how do I bring them lows up? Well, the first thing when we really started understanding, I no longer worry about variable rate planting or anything like that because our soils are just becoming consistent. You've got to remember I'm the guy that used to say I farm 25 different soil types in one pass.

Rick Clark:

You've gotten your system very stable.

 Loran Steinlage:

It's very stable right now.

Rick Clark:

Okay. Now I want you to back up just a little bit. Is there a chemistry program involved with this at this point in time?

 Loran Steinlage:

We're getting very limited on the chemistry on the relay cropping. I mean traditionally on a conventional field, generally if I see winter annuals, I'll go in and hit 240 in the fall. But then there's no herbicide until after the beans are out of the way. Not only herbicide at that point, it generally is if we have a wet year, we'll get some water grass or foxtail coming in. Generally hardly any weeds at that point.

Rick Clark:

Okay. So you've harvested off this cereal rye, let's just say it was cereal rye, and you've laid the beans down so you're not cutting any of them off. Now you've opened this up for sunlight to come in and possibly evaporation to take place. So now what happens to your soybeans now?

 Loran Steinlage:

Well-

Rick Clark:

And they're 30 inches apart, right?

 Loran Steinlage:

I'll back up to the actual harvest now. Yeah, we're running 30-inch soybeans on the relay, but I'll back up to the harvest. We're blowing all the residue back out. We're just broadcasting the residue and stuff like that. So we've got a very good residue mat. But what I want to do is I want to finish up the conversation on the actual harvesting.

 Loran Steinlage:

We've evolved all the way. We had Cootes' blocker guards in our hills. I don't like running steel out in front of a cutter bar. So then we just took a full section of drain tile, slid it, slammed it over your cutter bar, you're relay cropping.

 Loran Steinlage:

But in the hills, you'll start beating them off about 50 acres in. They'll start going through the combine. No big deal. Slam on a new one. But then we made bolt-on ones. But now we've evolved all the way to the point we're running a Deere row crop head. That is the ultimate place to get, other than the fact it is very high maintenance.

 Loran Steinlage:

We've learned over the years, the less we can molest that soybean, the better. The blockers are great, but the less damage you can do is the better.

Rick Clark:

So any combine can do this. There's nothing special about the combine.

 Loran Steinlage:

Yeah. Well, John, he went and switched his track combine. He slid the rows out so that he's running on 150 in centers. I'm getting old enough. I used to love moving wheels and all that. I'm getting lazy. So what we did on my head is I shifted the window in the feeder house. So the complete head is offset 15 inches now. Where that comes in handy is when you do run multiple combines in different locations. We can just throw the head off the trailer and move.

Rick Clark:

Okay.

Julia Gerlach:

We'll get back to Jimmy Emmons, Loran Steinlage, and Rick Clark in a moment. But I want to take time once again to thank our sponsor Yetter Farm Equipment for supporting today's episode.

Julia Gerlach:

Yetter Farm Equipment has been providing farmers with solutions since 1930. Today Yetter is your answer for finding the tools and equipment you need to face today’s production agriculture demands. The Yetter lineup includes a wide range of planter attachments for different planting conditions, several equipment options for fertilizer placement, and products that meet harvest-time challenges. Yetter delivers a return on investment and equipment that meets your needs and maximizes inputs. Visit them at yetterco.com. That's Y-E-T-T-E-R-C-O.com. Now here's Jimmy, Loran, and Rick one more time.

Rick Clark:

Okay. We've got a question from the audience, Jimmy. Let's go. Do you have irrigation on your farm?

Jimmy Emmons:

I have two pivots along the south main river. It's about 40-foot to water.

Rick Clark:

Okay. Have you been monitoring the amount ... I'm sure you have to monitor amount of water that you're pulling out of that water source. Have you seen your water consumption go up or down with this regenerative styling that you've now incorporated?

Jimmy Emmons:

So 10 years ago, our water infiltration rates was half inch an hour on our farm under the pivots. So if we-

Rick Clark:

So water infiltration. That's the amount of the speed-

Jimmy Emmons:

Water infiltration.

Rick Clark:

... the water can go into the profile.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yup. And so, it was ... The problem, about a half inch is what we get put on per pass-

Rick Clark:

Because it run off.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yeah. And so, then you just turn into a water cooler system out there. And so, last year we measured and we were about eight to 12 inches an hour. We run about 10 average now. So when we get a big rain event, four, five, six inches, we can actually take all that in.

Jimmy Emmons:

So my irrigation now has just turned into supplemental in the dry periods. There's a lot of years that we don't run the pivot hardly any. Then we're in a very dry period right now. And so, we're stepping that up. But we've also got to be careful with our water because it's high salt. And so, we've got to watch how much we put out.

Rick Clark:

I see.

Jimmy Emmons:

We really like the water before rain. People say, "Well, that's dumb. If it's going to rain, why are you ... " But we can also move that salt through.

Rick Clark:

Diluted [crosstalk 00:25:03].

Jimmy Emmons:

We'd fill a profile completely full, then we're good for quite a while.

Rick Clark:

But, see, what you said there that's so important here is by increasing your water infiltration rates, when you do get that storm that comes through, you've captured all of that moisture.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yeah.

Rick Clark:

It's in your profile now available for either a cover crop growing or a cash crop growing.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yeah. That's the new term I like to use with my neighbors when they say, "How much rain did you get last night?" I said, "All of it." That's popular sometimes and sometimes it's not, but that's really the key to this.

Jimmy Emmons:

When I started this, everyone told me, said, "Jimmy, you can't grow cover crops here because we're limited. We can barely grow one crop." You know what? They were right, because we were shedding and running off three portions of our rainfall because of our water infiltration. I have neighbors that still are, that can't get it figured out yet.

Jimmy Emmons:

But once we started taking in these big rain events, or any rain, we just take it all in. Then we have that to use. We fill the profile up. That has become the key because when I do get six, seven inches at a time, we take it in and we can grow what we want to grow. It really helped us out.

Rick Clark:

Yeah, it seems that the weather events are becoming more drastic in shorter periods of time.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yeah, whiplash weather.

Rick Clark:

So you've got to be able to capture that. I always think of Oklahoma as a stormy place anyway. That's where the tornadoes originate usually.

 Loran Steinlage:

I can give you the Iowa rendition of that.

Rick Clark:

That would be great.

 Loran Steinlage:

Because, as I said earlier, we're 100% pattern tile. Through some of the research we've been doing a lot, we do a lot of tile line monitoring. There's usually 40 of us in our county that are involved in that. They're monitoring 40 sites. Well, for two years, our tile lines never ran. We had four of the outlets they were monitoring. Out of 40, ours were the only ones that never ran. It'd take at least a two-inch rainfall event for our tile line to run generally. So when you want to talk water holding capacity ...

 Loran Steinlage:

When we started understanding that, that's when I started ... Liz and Rick Haney were one of the first ones I called that time, "How do we measure something like that?" So the simple ... The take home for you today, if you ever want to start figuring out how to do that, is if you all have done a slate test, do the same setup except for take 100 grams of soil out of each pad, weigh it, put it on a coffee filter, soak it, bring it out, set it on a scale as soon as it quits dripping. You'll start understanding your own soils pretty simply.

Jimmy Emmons:

I think that's where we really jive together, because we both understand that concept. I want the same thing. I want my water holding capacity good. I want to understand that. I want to know my water infiltration rates, because if you don't know that, how can you manage for your crops?

Rick Clark:

That's right.

Jimmy Emmons:

And so, that's really been key. It works on 800 miles apart, whether it's in a heavy rainfall area or a low rainfall area. You have to know what your holding capacity is. Can I hold it? Can I fill it? Can I use it in the same way?

Rick Clark:

Now, Jimmy, is there a watershed that your farm ... Is any part of your farm in a watershed?

Jimmy Emmons:

Yeah.

Rick Clark:

Okay. Is that watershed being monitored in any way by what your farm is contributing and the neighboring farms are contributing?

Jimmy Emmons:

So I also work for the conservation commission part-time as a mentoring, and we have a water monitoring program in our water quality division. I actually ask him to come out and do that. And so, yeah, I'm actually in three different watersheds where I'm at, just the topography and stuff. The drainage goes that way. We're scattered out over about 20-something miles.

Jimmy Emmons:

So, yes, and what they found is there's nothing running out of our fields because our water infiltrations are so high. Now there may be a time when we get one of them 24-inch rains in one month that we're going to fill the profile up. I mean we know that's going to happen. I'm not that boast to say I can take it all in, because you're only going to take what the profile can hold.

Jimmy Emmons:

And so, the key to that then is to have the residue, the mat on top of the ground that you filter that through, that only things leaving is good, clean water.

Rick Clark:

Yeah. Keep all the soil in place.

Jimmy Emmons:

All the soil, all the nutrients there, because once that aggregation is right, you can do that.

 Loran Steinlage:

Maybe you need tile.

Jimmy Emmons:

I'd like to pump water back in it like that.

Rick Clark:

Now, Loran, you shocked me this summer when I was at your farm and you said you had trout. Is that right?

 Loran Steinlage:

That was one of the [crosstalk 00:29:59].

Rick Clark:

In Iowa.

 Loran Steinlage:

Well, a little bit of the backstory to that, we grew a crop on four inches of moisture this year. So the day the DNR was out there, we hadn't had rain for a couple of months. All the water in that creek was stagnant. There was no running water. We were doing fish surveys and they have over a hundred trout in about a hundred foot of screen.

Rick Clark:

That's incredible.

 Loran Steinlage:

If you understand trout, they like cool, clean water. So, as I alluded to yesterday, that's a pretty cool test.

Rick Clark:

That's what I call a validation that what you're doing is right.

 Loran Steinlage:

We'll probably get on one of those sidetracks. I always like to bring up animal impact because I can't have it. But how many of us take credit for what we are given? I think Ray McCormick talked about it yesterday, the deer. It's a little bit of animal impact, isn't it? What about turkey? How many of you guys got birds flying over your fields? We all focus on the below-ground livestock. Is anybody focusing and putting a number on the above-ground livestock, what that impact is?

 Loran Steinlage:

I get a little frustrated just because I am on the outside looking in on that front. But you've got to start appreciating what we've got. The native soil wasn't built by just buffalo and cows. So start thinking of some of that. Take notice of what actually is there.

Jimmy Emmons:

I'm still impressed that you raised a crop on how many inches?

 Loran Steinlage:

Four.

Jimmy Emmons:

I'm so proud of you.

 Loran Steinlage:

The positive learning aspect I've been paying attention.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yeah.

 Loran Steinlage:

Actually, the true story behind that is we were out in a deal out in South Dakota last winter there. I think anytime you stick your head out proud, Mother Nature's going to humble you.

Jimmy Emmons:

Oh yeah.

 Loran Steinlage:

I made a comment out there in South Dakota, yeah, my dry year is your guys' wet year. The driest year I ever remember was probably 20 inches of moisture. To drop to four is pretty ... But it's also validation of the system.

 Loran Steinlage:

I've been focusing a lot the last couple of years on our salt loads and stuff like that. This year, I was pretty adamant that I was going to change a few things up on how are things done. Well, one of the biggest things I wanted to do is I wanted to ... Any corn I was going to put nitrogen on, we were actually going to ... I knew I was comfortable upfront with the carryover and stuff like that. I know through the Haney test what our soils can produce. So my full side dress load was going to go on pretest or something like that.

 Loran Steinlage:

Well, with the weather we were having, all of a sudden I'd seen in the forecast we had a rain. But I was watching the neighbor's field. This is on zero health field. Just the difference in the salt load. My corn is just as green as it could be right to the row. The neighbor's is white. A couple days later, we'd seen that rain coming, so we pulled the trigger early. Within three days, my corn was starting to get white.

 Loran Steinlage:

Got to start thinking on stuff like that. How many of these problems we're trying to solve have we created ourselves? It's the whole soil disturbance thing. How many weed seeds do we actually plant ourselves? We create our own problems.

Rick Clark:

Right. I'd like to go just a little different direction here. I'd like to talk about legacy. What do you guys think about what you're building for the future and what's that look like? Jimmy, I'd like for you to go first on this one.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yeah. When granddad came in 1926, we set right on the great western cattle trail. If you look at the maps, the Chisholm Trail moved west as the settlement moved west in Kansas. That trail is still evident through our rangeland. We tried to protect that.

Jimmy Emmons:

That land was very fertile that ... I have a journal of a drover that came up the trail in 1876. He logged in every day from San Antonio, Texas to Ogallala, Nebraska. And so, I knew by the streams and the rivers he was crossing where he was at in Oklahoma. Then he talked about the gypsum ravines before the Canadian valley. He was sitting on our upper land before going into the watershed along the Canadian valley. He talked about the grass being taller than the horseback and how good that was. So it was very fertile land.

Jimmy Emmons:

Then as the moldboard plow came along and when my granddad ... That was a big tool that we used for years, and my dad. And so, we degraded that not knowing, not knowing, they were doing the best they could do, and I'm very proud of what they done because I still have it.

Jimmy Emmons:

But my legacy is I want to get it back. We're working on that right now. The last fall, NRCS came out. They've been with me for 10 years in this project as a partner. When we dug soils and we done water infiltration rates under the pivot, where we parked the pivot for two hours and put on seven inches and we took it all in, as we dug soil and tried to trace down how fast it went down, the soil scientist said, "Holy cow, Jimmy, this is unbelievable."

Jimmy Emmons:

I said, "What are you talking about, Steve?" He said, "You've changed your soil classification. I think we can reclassify that." It's like, okay, you're going to have to explain that a little bit more. I've got some really great pictures as well that shows that.

Jimmy Emmons:

And so, that legacy part then starts really coming into play what we can do in 10 years. Now I'm 61 years old now, and that's not very old than what it used to be what I considered is really old. It's not so old anymore. But in truthfulness, about 20 more years, things are going to have to start changing for Jimmy. And so, I want to work real hard at just continually building that back.

Jimmy Emmons:

Now my son ... I didn't tell the whole story a while ago when I lost my, my granddad. My granddad was in his 90s and had a bad day and got on the interstate, gone the wrong way, and had a bad wreck and didn't make it. My dad at that time was two and a half years into cancer. Shortly after we lost granddad, I lost dad as well.

Jimmy Emmons:

Really the problem with dad in them times, and that was, like I said, in 1996, the radiation that they had gave him in his mouth, they missed it. He had radiation poisoning in his jaw bone. It's gross, so I don't want to talk about it much.

Jimmy Emmons:

But, anyhow, my son [Beau 00:00:37:04] then became very interested in trying to see that didn't happen. So he became a radiation therapist in school, went to practice in Texas, and then moved back to Oklahoma a year and a half later. Now he's the director of the cancer center and radiation department there at Mercy Hospital.

Rick Clark:

Wow.

Jimmy Emmons:

And so, the reality is Beau's bought land next to the home place and bought this grandmother's place on Ginger's side here a while back, but he won't be coming back. I mean he's doing what he loves to do and I want him to do that.

Jimmy Emmons:

But I have a grandson that just thoroughly enjoys coming to the ranch and digging and looking at worms. He's eight years old and he loves to hunt and fish. And so, even if he chooses another career, which is quite possible, because they live in a big urban area, I still want him to be able to come back to the land and enjoy hunting and fishing. But I also want him to choose a good steward of the land. And so, part of my legacy is not just leaving the land for them. It's leaving the ability to know how to take care of it.

Rick Clark:

How did you get to where you are.

Jimmy Emmons:

And to appreciate that we've rebuilt it for the legacy, for the future generations, whether it's ours or somebody else's.

Rick Clark:

Yeah.

Jimmy Emmons:

So we're very committed in that. That's one of the things that we try to do is have educational events out. We're working with the local school now to do that this coming summer, because I think that's something that we really miss is educating our youth about the possibilities.

Jimmy Emmons:

Also, as we rebuild that and regenerate that land, there is that opportunity for him to come back and make a good living beside us out there. So we're working on that and we're committed that we can do this and we will do it.

Rick Clark:

Loran?

 Loran Steinlage:

January 2009, I had the perfect life. My legacy hit the wall. You think you got it all made. You got the son in place, got two great daughters, and all of a sudden your son gets sick. If it wouldn't have been for that day, you guys probably wouldn't have known me. I was a very close-minded person at that time. What I knew was mine. I was going to farm the world. Hit a wall that day. I'd guarantee you that ER was reinforced.

 Loran Steinlage:

We sat down that day, me and my wife. We decided that we weren't going to let cancer hold us down. I decided that day we're going to share what we know. I'm not a selfish person anymore. We're going to take what we've learned over these years and share it. The scary part is since I started doing that, the more I share, the more people share. It's just a vicious cycle.

 Loran Steinlage:

One of the key things through that time was our daughters. They had so much chance to go wrong. You if you notice, I don't like talking about myself a lot, but I love helping people. There's people that stepped in that time to help our kids. When people do that for you, you start understanding that.

 Loran Steinlage:

That's been the legacy that really set us on our path we're on now. My long-term goal now is our farm is going to become the Dakota Lakes of Iowa. I don't care about being the biggest farmer in the world, but we've learned and shared enough. We've got some things going right now. With the kids' deal, we almost got to the point we had to shut it down because our kids have moved on. But one of the proudest moments/two years ago I guess it is now, the 4-H kids took a vote and they decided they're going to keep it running now. Since then, it started thriving again.

 Loran Steinlage:

On the farm, I pretty well figured the farm was going to die with me that day. Well, about 2015, at our field day, the youngest, she's like, "Dad, I'm going to kick your rear out of here someday." Since that time, that's reinvigorated me. That's really started pushing me harder and forward. But that's also why I'm fully prepared to walk away from the farm someday.

 Loran Steinlage:

My dad stepped out of the limelight in his prime, gave me a chance to thrive. When we talk to some of these people, that's the biggest thing I see. A lot of families don't understand that. You've got to have them conversations, fathers and sons.

 Loran Steinlage:

I'm fortunate, me and my dad have been on the same page. But I see a lot of operations, they're bucking heads. One wants progress, one doesn't want progress. Now we fast forward to the situation where both daughters are married now. Our son is ... He's living in Tulsa, Oklahoma to bring him into rehab. We're getting him the right help now and he's got a future.

 Loran Steinlage:

But our farming operation is going through a transition right now. Probably not going the way I planned it. The daughters, they both went and got animal science degrees. Hey, I'll get the heck out of the way. Let's get the livestock there. Well, now they've both grown up. Another five years, I doubt ... The way it sounds, I don't want livestock. But we're just going to keep rolling with the punches. We'll figure it out.

 Loran Steinlage:

But my biggest challenge right now is the son-in-law. I think he's starting to get what I'm going towards, but I'm walking a fine line when we're talking to people, namely he's going to be my in-laws. They are very good operators, very successful operators. So I do not want to come across that they're doing something wrong.

Rick Clark:

You can't offend them.

 Loran Steinlage:

That's what I see a lot of social media right now, it scares me. Why do we need to divide anybody? Look what we have on stage right now. Jimmy's a pretty conventional farmer. Rick's organic, organic, part conventional.

Jimmy Emmons:

What I really get out of this is we've both had lots and lots of tragedy and hard times, but neither one of us have failed to give up. We won't be conquered by something that's trying to take you down. I think we see that a lot across the country, that it's easy to say, "I give up. This is the end. I won't be able to do this no more. It's overwhelming how to ... "

Jimmy Emmons:

When the wildfire came, I had to have a serious, serious talk with the banker because it was a serious financial blow. Loran's talking about it a while ago, we were in a pretty good shape financially. He said, "What are you going do?" I said, "We're going to forge right ahead." I said, "You've just got to stay with me a little while here in the interim." Now it's a different story.

Jimmy Emmons:

But it's one of them things that mindset, that the power of the mind, can be on your side or against you. It's how you look at life and how you can accept that you will have trials and you will have trouble to make you stronger. It's not to make you weaker. That's the big difference.

 Loran Steinlage:

Everybody's bringing up regen ag right now. I think a lot of us has talked about what do we define it as. Start thinking what you define it as because, for me, regen ag is survival mode. I don't know when I started it, but through our life, that's been how we kept forging ahead. Every time we hit a wall, we pulled back, we've seen more success.

 Loran Steinlage:

I was a strong conventional farmer at one point. I could rattle off the fertilizer recipes and this and that. I'm at the point I don't even care about them anymore. I took my son-in-law to Rick's a couple of years ago, and that's when I think he finally started getting it. Go to Rick's place and what? Six-hour drive home. Less is more. Less is more. That's all he kept saying the whole triple.

Rick Clark:

I'll tell you what I really like about this whole national no-till conference that goes on, and any other conference, it's like the folks that come up here, we have a sense of comradery. We're building community. We're transparent with everything we do. We try to help as many people as we possibly can. I mean to sit up here and pour this out, I can't thank you guys enough.

Rick Clark:

Jimmy, there's a question from an individual from South Dakota. How do you overcome a massive reset wildfire situation?

Jimmy Emmons:

So understanding the system is first and foremost. And so, like our rangeland, I knew it had to have a long period of rest because the fire ... I'll just tell you a little bit about that day. We were receiving the Leopold Award at the state capital when my phone started ringing. The fire had started.

Jimmy Emmons:

And so, a little bit later down the road, Undersecretary Bill Northey and my congressman wanted to come after the fire and look. And so, the US Forest Service came and gave a debriefing that day, because the fire was still going on. It was just not very wild at that time, a few weeks later.

Jimmy Emmons:

We had 3% relative humidity. We had 50-mile an hour winds with two major fronts coming through. So we had wind shifts.

Rick Clark:

So static electricity started this fire?

Jimmy Emmons:

The first original spark, they never could figure out. So probably. The third day, the highlines are south of my house and started another fire that then joined that fire. That happened for nine days in them extreme temperatures.

Jimmy Emmons:

One of the things that really stuck out to me was the Forest Service said the fuel load was drier that day than the lumber that you would buy at the lumber yard. And so, it was very, very hot, very intense fire. A lot of my landlords had not managed eastern red cedar, an invasive cedar tree in our area, and them fires are very, very hot.

Jimmy Emmons:

So I knew that we had cooked the biology in the top of the profile. I knew the grass was very, very injured. Then my crop land that ... And I told this in the breakout session yesterday. I had vowed 10 years ago that my land would never blow again, because my granddad talked about going through the '30s and my dad talked about the '50s, where they went two years and didn't raise enough seed to reseed their crop. And so, I said my land's never going to blow again because I'm all about residue and I'm all about managing ... God can humble you.

Jimmy Emmons:

So when all that residue is gone and you have extreme winds. So I had had wind erosion for several days. But while that was going on, I was getting cover crop seed in, shipped in. I was getting the drill ready because I knew if it rained, the first moment I could get out there, I wanted to get the cover crop back in.

Jimmy Emmons:

So then the big problem was, okay, you've shipped half the cow herd away to save them, to grass in eastern Oklahoma. A good friend of mine, Tom [Kendall 00:00:49:21] was gracious enough to be able to handle them for me. But I still had the other half there. I had to feed them.

Jimmy Emmons:

And so, how do you feed them? You want take some land that you're raising cash crops and forage crops, because I knew I had to stay off the grass, even if it went to rain and we were very, very dry.

Jimmy Emmons:

So we stayed off the rangeland for a full year. Once again, if you read the book, we're supposed to set aside every seven years. And so, that was my reset. I stayed off it the entire year. Our grass really, really responded. It's tremendous. Now we have some of the best rangeland around.

Rick Clark:

Okay. Let me stop you there, Jimmy.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yup.

Rick Clark:

Okay. The fire came, burned it up. You did not go out and plant anything else. You just let the natural habitat come back.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yup.

Rick Clark:

Okay.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yeah. I truly believe that the seed bank is there, which it was. We had some neighbors that started grazing their grass when it came back, wouldn't let the photosynthesis get to the full potential. They were trying to feed their cattle. I'm not the one to judge. I just knew that it needed to rest.

Jimmy Emmons:

It was very expensive to do that because I had to pay a year's high dollar rent a long ways from home on half. Then we took land that was normally for cash crops and grew forage to graze and whatnot. The pivots were very key in that.

Jimmy Emmons:

Actually, I backed up in organic matter. I pushed the land too hard. But that's part of the ebb and flow that you got to understand, that Mother Nature does this anyhow. Things are not always in your control even though you want to.

Jimmy Emmons:

So while we were giving it a rest, we had 25 miles of fence that were laying flat on the ground, a lot of barbed wire fence in our area. And so, we spent a long time-

Rick Clark:

Posts were burned out.

Jimmy Emmons:

Yeah, everything. To tell you how dry and how intense the fire was ... And I had a landlord, an old man, from Texas came up. The wooden corner post burnt to the bottom of the hole.

Rick Clark:

[crosstalk 00:51:42].

Jimmy Emmons:

Now normally, they-

Rick Clark:

Four feet in the ground.

Jimmy Emmons:

It looked like you drilled a new post hole perfectly to the bottom of the ground.

Rick Clark:

Wow.

Jimmy Emmons:

That's how intense it was. And so, we were building fence. Then we have all these skeletons of dead trees standing there. We talked about that at breakfast this morning. NRCS came out with a wooded reed removal. And so, we've been mulching trees since '19. I think it'll be like about 80-some acres been-

Rick Clark:

Holy cow.

Jimmy Emmons:

... completely redone, mulching, all that. I want all the carbon back on the ground because that's part of the reset as well. Where we've started that a few years ago, that grass has really come back now. You overload the system with too much carbon, we know that is not the best thing, but Mother Nature also has this ability to cycle that through and to come back. So it's been a long journey, and I've had a good banker and a good wife and family to stand behind us.

Julia Gerlach:

Thanks to Jimmy Emmons, Loran Steinlage, and Rick Clark for this conversation about finding no-till success in the face of adversity. To listen to more podcasts about no-till topics and strategies, please visit no-tillfarmer.com/podcasts.

Julia Gerlach:

Once again, we'd like to thank our sponsor Yetter Farm Equipment for helping to make this no-till podcast series possible. If you have any feedback on today's episode, please feel free to email me at jgerlach@lessitermedia.com or call me at 262-777-2404.

Julia Gerlach:

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Julia Gerlach:

Be sure to follow us on Twitter, @NoTillFarmr, with farmer spelled F-A-R-M-R, and our No-Till Farmer Facebook page. For our entire staff here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Julia Gerlach. Thanks for tuning in.