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Fourth-generation farmer John Burk grows corn, soybeans, dry beans, sugar beets and wheat across 4,300 acres in Bay City, Mich., just 10 miles south of Lake Huron. When he’s not farming, he’s busy helping his alma mater, Michigan State, with research projects and presentations
“Sometimes I mumble and stumble, but if I’m talking about something I know, then I’m a good speaker,” Burk says. “But if you ask me to talk about home economics, you might as well forget about it.”
Luckily for Burk, we only asked him to talk about his favorite topic — cover crops — as we mic’d him up during a truck ride around his farm in June 2023. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
John Burk: We no-till our wheat, but everything else is usually done with a chisel plow or disk ripper. Being so close to Lake Huron, it’s cold and damp here for long periods of time. That’s why you don’t see a lot of no-till in this area because we can’t get our soils to warm up and dry out fast enough. We can’t no-till sugar beets, but we’ll do a stale seed bed sometimes, where we’ll work it in the fall and then just plant in the spring. We use John Deere 1795 and 1790 planters for corn and sugar beets, and a John Deere 1990 air seeder for wheat and soybeans in 20-inch rows.
We don't have your typical midwestern rotation. Sugar beets follow wheat…