We’re taking the show on the road this week, broadcasting from Precision Planting’s PTI Farm ahead of the 10th annual National Strip-Tillage Conference. On this episode of Conservation Ag Update, PTI Farm manager Jason Webster gives an inside scoop on why the 400-acre research farm in Pontiac, Ill., attracts thousands of people from all over the globe. 

Plus hear why longtime no-tiller Marion Calmer is adopting strip-till as a solution to his nutrient stratification problems. Also, in the Cover Crop Connection segment, assistant editor Mackane Vogel highlights a program that’s spearheading increased adoption of regenerative ag practices. 

Later in the episode, Laurie Isley of Palmyra, Mich., steps into the farmer feature spotlight, we go ahead of the curve with Sabanto’s autonomy kit, and a farmer discovers a soil testing device that delivers results on the spot in our Video of the Week.

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PTI Farm Tour with Lead Agronomist Jason Webster

Welcome to Conservation Ag Update LIVE from Precision Planting’s PTI Farm in Pontiac, Illinois. I’m technology editor Noah Newman. We’re getting set for a special workshop to kick off the 10th annual National Strip-Tillage Conference.  If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend checking this place out. We caught up with PTI Farm manager Jason Webster, for the inside scoop on why this research farm attracts visitors from all over the globe.  

“It’s 400 acres of on-farm research. We’re testing products and technologies from precision planting, but we also test technologies and equipment from all other equipment available in the marketplace. What we’re trying to do on this farm is challenge the status quo. We’re taking all the things that farmers are used to using, what they feel comfortable with, and we compare it to something else.”

“We invite thousands of growers from around the world. We’re about 85 miles south of Chicago, right along I-85, great access, great visibility. At this farm we invite growers to come out and have a conversation. It’s a way for farmers to have a conversation with their peers. Every day is a different conversation. July-September, we invite farmers and industry groups out and we just talk about ways to be better.” 

Webster will reveal some of his key findings during a presentation at the conference. We’ll share some highlights soon on StripTillFarmer.com and NoTillFarmer.com.

Longtime No-Tiller Considers Strip-Till a Solution to Nutrient Stratification

A no-till legend is making his debut at the National Strip-Tillage Conference. 4-time Lessiter Media Presenter of the Year Marion Calmer is here in central Illinois to reveal a possible solution to vertical nutrient stratification problems in his long-term no-till fields. 

The independent farm researcher found 50% of his P and K was in the top 2 inches of his soil. He set up an experiment and tried moldboard plowing 1.6 acres to see if plowing would move the nutrients down into the soil profile. After seeing the results, Calmer decided it’s time to make some big changes.

“There was a 9-bushel advantage to destratification or incorporating those nutrients into the soil profile. So, I’m going to make some changes because of this for next year. We’re going to run a SoilWarrior this fall, and we’re going to prepare a zone, till it up, and mix the nutrients in there so they’re in the root zone where the moisture is at, so we can grow an even better crop.”

This will mark Calmer’s first return to strip-till corn since 1995, when he made the move to 15-inch no-tillage. Now, let’s send it back to the studio — assistant editor Mackane Vogel, holding down the fort with today’s Cover Crop Connection. 

Assistance with Adopting Regenerative Ag Practices

On the most recent episode of the Cover Crop Strategies Podcast, I spoke with Zach Larson and Tyler Williams, 2 sustainable systems agronomists with Bayer. 

You can see Larson and other Bayer agronomists here, working out in the field, which is part of the support that comes with Bayer’s ForGround program. ForGround seeks to make it easier for farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices, such as cover crops, and provides them with resources for doing so.

We started this about a year ago, really kind of focused on three areas. The agronomic and sort of the science behind what we're doing.

A lot of what Zach's expertise are in, you know, the, the science behind soil health and cover crops. And, especially that's kind of what our team's designed to do is how can we help agronomically make some of these things happen? So we have kind of a team focused around that resources, content, things that we can put together to help growers do that.

The other piece and that we hear a lot about it was, you mentioned was the economics and sort of some of the barriers. Financially upfront that, that it takes to be a part of it. So we work with a number of folks and try to collaborate and bring discounts and resources and services or tools that partners can kind of come in and say, Hey, you know, we can provide this service to growers.

They allow our growers to have discounts for some of those services. And again, just to help them take that next step and, and reduce that barrier to entry. And then the last thing that usually gets a lot of the buzz and the attention, at least as of late is that revenue stream or that added straight income that can come from adopting these practices.

And so that's again, kind of another key component of foreground is bringing those revenue opportunities that. You know, can get growers over those hurdles to that that it might take to, to start something or help reduce the risk or take off a little bit of the sting if you're going to make that first purchase.

Hear the full conversation between myself, Zach and Tyler at covercropstrategies.com/podcasts.

Farmer Feature: Laurie Isley, Palmyra, Mich.

Time now for the Farmer Feature. We’re catching up with fifth-generation farmer Laurie Isley. She no-tills and strip-tills corn and soybeans across 1,100 acres in Palmyra, Mich. Isley is also the director of the United Soybean Board and has been a longtime proponent of cover crops. As she tells our Mike Lessiter, there’s a good chance cover crop adoption rates are going to take off soon. 

“I think we’re going to see an increase in cover crop adoption partly because of programs like Farmers for Soil Health, but also because it’s become a conversation on many different levels. We now have companies that have set climate smart, sustainability goals, that are looking for products they can source that are being raised in a way they consider to be sustainable. When the marketplace speaks, farmers listen.”

“As we begin to see an emphasis on it from that end, as well as simply seeing more farmers around them who are successful with cover crops. In our case, sometimes it was the ability of that soil to better absorb a heavy water event. Sometimes it’s just others saying, ‘Wait a minute I have huge puddles in my field but the field over there without puddles, I want to see what’s happening and why that’s case.’ We have workshops at the farm.”

“We have an open-door policy when people want to visit our farm to see how our conservation practices work. But I think there needs to be a willingness to be open to learning new things and adopting new practices, and as you get younger farmers coming into the industry, I think you’re going to see an increased adoption.”

Autonomy in Action: From the Phone to the Field

Moving on to the precision technology portion of the program. We’re going ahead of the curve with autonomous swarm farming company Sabanto. In late July, the company announced a kit to make existing tractors autonomous available now. I visited the company’s Ames, Iowa, headquarters this past winter for a look at how to set up and operate an autonomous tractor. Let’s check it out. Here’s autonomy in action.  

“This is our makeitgovroom.com, which is our website optimized for mobile. You can see that the speed is 0, you can see what the fuel tank level is here. I’m going to attempt to start the engine here. So now it’s spinning up to speed, and you can see the engine RPM rising up to around 800 RPM.”

“So that’s it. This is autonomous farming, remote starting, set the tractor off on a mission and if you’d like we can peak out the door here and see the tractor just kind of doing its thing out there.” 

“This is where you want to get to in autonomy, boredom, finding yourself with the task of finding something else to do. That’s what autonomy is all about.” 

“So, I’m going to resume navigation. And the brake will disengage and we’ll start moving. So what I’ve found with these tractors with autonomous operating systems, they make great offices for getting a lot of work done. I’m actually very guilty of working several Saturdays and Sundays on my laptop here in the cab and the tractor just kind of moving along and doing it’s thing. It’s mind boggling. With that said I think that’s going to be the paradigm shift as autonomy comes into the marketplace.”

“We may not live in a world where operators leave the machine alone to operate freely. I envision a world where you might have multiple systems in one field but maybe just one operator. And that one operator is keeping an eye on the tractor, the implements, making sure everything is working as it should, making sure nothing catches on fire or crawls into the road. In agriculture I don’t think things are in a place where the human can be taken out of the loop. But I will say the technology coming to the marketplace makes it easier for one operator to command multiple machines and get a lot of work done in a given day.”

I was at the Linco-Precision Field Day in Nokomis, Ill., recently, and Linco-Precision owner Skip Klinefelter told me his organic farming customers have shown a ton of interest in buying the Sabanto autonomy kits. Thanks again to Cory and the Sabanto crew for giving us a peek behind the curtain. 

Video of the Week: Instant Soil Test Results

Let’s wrap things up with our video of the week. It comes to us from @growincorn2020 on TikTok. He found a new soil testing tool that delivers results within 5 minutes! Let’s see how it works.  

“This is Tom Utell. He’s the main man. Check out this soil probe right here. This is all digital. Tell us what this does.”

“What this does, it’s a lab on a probe. We got out, create the same hole we normally would with your soil probe. Stick this in the ground. Hit the test button. Normally it takes 10-15 seconds, and it will georeferenced the location we’re at, send that to the cloud, and you’ll have a soil test reading within 5-10 minutes.”

“So we’re in the truck with the Ipad. That little yellow dot that’s where we put the probe in. The blue dot’s the truck. You come over here, you click that, and this will bring your soil test up right here.” 

 We’ll have much more coverage from the National Strip-Tillage Conference on the next edition of Conservation Ag Update. Until then, head to NoTillFarmer.com for all the latest features and headlines. In Pontiac, Illinois, I’m Noah Newman. See you next time. 

Have an interesting photo or video from your farm? Or a story you’d like us to feature on the broadcast? Send me an email at Nnewman@lesspub.com.

And that will wrap things up this edition of Conservation Ag Update. Until next time, for more stories visit no-tillfarmer.com, striptillfarmer.com and covercropstrategies.com. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day!