Jack Maloney is the fourth generation of his family to raise crops on his sprawling, lush farm fields near Brownsburg, Ind., just outside Indianapolis. An early adopter of using technology such as the Global Positioning System to precisely guide his planters and combine, Maloney is an ardent believer in sustaining his farm’s resources, namely the soil.
Maloney says applying 1 ton per acre of gypsum on his fields every other year has made his farm’s silt loam and silty clay loam soils more permeable to rain water, softer down through the soil profile and less prone to surface hardening. He says water does not stand in his fields like it did before he began using gypsum.
“I can take 2 inches of water and it won’t pond,” says Maloney who raises no-till corn, soybeans and seed soybeans. “With gypsum, we have a higher permeability rate.”
Maloney uses Gypsoil calcium sulfate, a byproduct of the process that cleans the air from coal-burning power utilities by removing sulfur dioxide from flue gases. Once applied to soils, the gypsum neutralizes metals and chemical salts and loosens soil to improve air and water movement throughout the soil profile. It also improves the environment for soil organisms.
Maloney, who no-tills 2,500 acres, says his soils are more mellow and easier to work, and that he has observed more earthworm activity. The improved biological profile enhances root growth deep into the subsoil.
“We’ve had roots down 4 1/2 feet,” he says.
Commercial fertilizer use has gone down on the Maloney farm since gypsum started being applied 7 years ago.
“Our phosphorus and potassium costs are way down because our soil tests tell me not as much is required,” Maloney adds.
Maloney performs soil sampling on half of his farm every year, adding that he doesn't see the the peaks and valleys in fertility that he previously experienced.
Comparing results on his fields where gypsum has been applied versus conventional fields where no gypsum is applied, Maloney says he has calculated a $162-per-acre savings in input costs. That's assuming customary products and use rates for a comparative conventional field and current market prices for input costs.
Field With Gypsum
Phosphate (11-52-0) at 12.33 pounds or $7.47/acre
Potassium (0-0-60) at 21.34 pounds or $10.78/acre
Hi-Cal Lime at 1.3 tons or $25.44/acre
Gypsoil at 1 ton or $23/acre
Total Costs: $66.69/acre
Phosphate (11-52-0) at 150 pounds or $91/acre
Potassium (0-0-60) at 200 pound or $100/acre
Lime (Any type) at 2 tons or $38/acre
Total Costs: $229/acre
“We’ve increased yield and lowered costs dramatically,” Maloney says.
The second stop on the tour was Starkey Farms, a 3,000-acre operation that raises no-till corn, soybeans and wheat. Starkey Farms is operated by brothers Mike and Dave Starkey and Dave’s son, Jeff.
Mike Starkey says his background in accounting helped him to prioritize information gathering functions at the farm, including a heavy use of onfarm trials to evaluate the impact of various inputs.
“We are not afraid to change things when we find something that works better,” Mike Starkey says.
The Starkey family has been a no-till operation since 2000 after trying it briefly in the early '90s. They discontinued no-till the first time around when yields went down and stand results were horrible, Starkey recalls.
Once he and his family learned how to properly set up planting equipment, place nitrogen efficiently and monitor calcium and magnesium levels in soils, the operation was successful in using no-till.
"Our yield stabilized and our input costs and labor went down," Starkey says
Starkey echoes Maloney’s comments about water infiltration improvements after using Gypsoil. “It is amazing how water does not stand anymore. When it rains hard, water is just gone now,” said Starkey during a mini tour set up amidst the operation’s planting equipment.
Tile water from both Starkey's and Maloney’s farms drain into the Eagle Creek Reservoir, which provides drinking water for Indianapolis. Last fall, the Eagle Creek Watershed Alliance, a local water-quality study coalition, completed a study monitoring agricultural chemicals, nutrients and sediment entering the reservoir.
What they found was that water draining from School branch, the creek that carries water from the Starkey and Maloney farms to the reservoir, had lower agricultural chemical and nutrient levels than other watershed tributaries feeding the reservoir.
The final stop on the Purdue tour was Hession Farms, a 5,000-acre enterprise, also based in Brownsburg. It's operated by brothers Anthony and Matt Hession, with help from their families, including four college-age sons and nephews, and employee Al Good.
The Hessions grow food-grade corn and soybeans and approximately half their crop is corn-on-corn rotation. Anthony Hession said their best yields in 2008 and 2009 were in continuous corn fields. They use variable rate technology for seeding and fertilizer rates based on yield and soil type.
Matt Hession and Good explained the farm’s strip-tilling methods and tillage equipment configurations. They split their nitrogen applications, typically applying a fixed rate at planting with the balance applied using variable-rate technology as a post-emerge sidedress.
Gypsum has been used on the Hession fields for approximately 5 years.