On this episode of Conservation Ag Update, brought to you by Martin Till, Vincennes, Ind., no-tiller Ray McCormick explains why it’s going to be tough to “not lose a lot of money this year” on corn. Plus, we ask our readers, “On a scale of 1-10, how concerned are you about drought this year?” Hear why some farmers are worried, and why others aren’t very worried at all.

In the Cover Crop Connection, Brendon Blank, certified forage and cover crop specialist for Byron Seeds, compares the pros and cons of cereal rye and winter wheat.

Merlin, Ont., no-tiller Blake Vince steps into the Farmer Feature spotlight, and explains how grazing enhanced his no-till system. Also in the episode, Cascade, Iowa farmer Zach Reiter shares advice for first time strip-tillers and no-tillers, and soil health consultant Barry Fisher reflects on his biggest no-till mistake.

This episode of Conservation Ag Update is brought to you by Martin Till.  

Our customers believe that Martin-Till®️ products provide an excellent return on their investment. We know this because a large percentage of them are repeat customers since the beginning in 1991. Our planter attachments help make it possible to plant into higher levels of residue and moisture. Higher levels of mulch means less erosion, improved soil tilth and fertility, which can reduce production costs.

Martin Till’s goal is to increase yields and save you time and money. We hope you find something from our product offerings of row cleaner, UMO’s, closing wheels systems and recently added concaves that will make this year’s planting & harvesting go better for you. After all, you deserve the best!



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No-Till Legend: “It’s Going to Be Tough to Not Lose a Lot of Money…”

Farmers surveyed across the U.S. expect to plant 90 million acres of corn this year, down 5% from 2023, according to the USDA’s annual Prospective Plantings report. And corn acreage is also expected to drop by 300,000 acres or more in several states, including Indiana.

Which just so happens to be the home state of No-Till Farmer’s 2024 Conservation Ag Operator Fellow, Ray McCormick. He farms in Vincennes, Ind., in the southwestern part of the state near the Illinois border. Heading into planting season, McCormick says it’s going to be tough to turn a profit on corn this year.

 “The corn price has fallen apart. So, with corn now trying to get below $4, it's going to be tough to not lose a lot of money this year. I've got a lot of old corn, which is now not worth anything, and I'll be growing a lot of corn that's not going to be worth much, but 100% of the corn I grow is non-GMO. I sell it into specialty markets, which are all making drinking alcohol out of the non-GMO corn. I don't know why people need non-GMO to poison their liver, but it's not for me to judge. And that's 40-cent premium on top if there's a positive basis. I could get $0.50 or $0.60 over the board for that corn, but still I'm not getting $6 or $7, if you even get that, you're going $4.50. So dramatic fall in the prices.”    

ON CAM McCormick also grows all non-GMO soybeans, which he’s sold for a $3.10 premium. He says that will help limit his losses.

On a Scale of 1-10, How Concerned Are You About Drought?

In the No-Till Farmer email discussion group this week, we asked, “On a scale of 1-10, how concerned are you about drought this year?” Let’s see what some of you said.

“Five. I am concerned for farmers who have depleted soil. On my farm, I feel confident because I have been using strip-till and no-till for the past 18 years. My soil organic material has increased from less than 3% to nearly 6% now. Every drop of rain infiltrates where it falls. No runoff.”

– Roger Engstrom

“If you are not getting rain and your profile is not very full, I would be concerned. As you build organic matter with no-till and cover crops, your soils will begin to absorb and hold water more efficiently. It can take a number of years of intentionally doing this with covers, but please do not give up on cover crops.”

– Nathan Brubaker

“We are concerned about drought every year in Maryland and Pennsylvania at about a 9 out of 10, since water is the most limiting factor in crop production, and this year is no different. We try to drought-proof our operation. Here is our approach: 1 — We work on the physiochemistry of our soil. 2 — We fertilize our soil, so all nutrients are in the high to very high level. 3 — Maintain high levels of surface residue from the previous crop and cover crops. 4 — Roots! We do everything we can to grow lots of roots. 5 — We stay at the ready with foliar applications and PGRs to mitigate drought stress. Concerned about drought? Maybe. Worried about drought? No. We'll leave the rest to the "Lord of the harvest.”

– H. Grant Troop

Join the conversation by signing up for the No-Till Farmer Email Discussion Group.  

Cereal Rye vs. Winter Wheat: Is One Better than the Other?

This week I traveled to Weninger Farms for a Pre-Planting Clinic hosted by the Dodge County Farmers for Healthy Soil & Healthy Water. The event was filled with lots of great discussions and presentations. Here’s Cover Crop Specialist Brendon Blank answering the age old question of which one is better: winter wheat or cereal rye? 

“Cereal Rye roots more aggressively. A deeper root, more vigorous, it’s just a fool-proof plant. You can plant it later, it’s just the most forgiving thing out there. There is also some — most cereal rye you are working with is VNS rye, it hasn't really changed from a genetic standpoint nearly to the level that a lot of our wheat has. There is some talk out there that some of the winter wheat through the cultivation over the years where it’s being grown and cultivated in high tillage environments and high fertility environments where it has lost some of that vigor and mycorrhizal fungi that go along that cereal rye does really well with. So they kind of bred it to be more built toward a system where it’s got all the fertilizer in it whereas the rye that hasn’t happened. Rye is grown in more rugged conditions and it is not pampered as much. For a cover crop we want something that is just gonna work really really hard and the rye has proven itself to do that and winter wheat is just a little bit more of a princess. It’s not as rugged and it’s designed to be a commodity crop and designed for above ground material whereas the rye is just kind of old like an old 40-20 John Deere. It just kind of works. It’s old and reliable and we haven’t messed it up.”

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for lots more content from the pre planting clinic including some advanced cover crop technology and a preview into this year’s National Strip-Tillage Conference.

Farmer Feature: Blake Vince, Merlin, Ont.

Time now for the Farmer Feature. Stepping into the spotlight this week is… Merlin, Ont., no-tiller Blake Vince!

Blake’s farm is located in Canada about 1 hour east of Detroit, Mich., straight across the shores of Lake Erie. He’s big on diverse, multi-species cover crop mixes. And Blake says his no-till system didn’t feel complete until he started grazing those cover crops.

“When we start introducing cattle, it provides a very good opportunity to gain revenue from the cover crops. When you take those cover crops and use them to feed livestock, we can then use the manure that comes from the animal and drive soil function far greater than we can with synthetic inputs. That’s when the whole system really starts to smoke. It really gives me tremendous satisfaction seeing and finally understanding what’s possible. Tragically, we’re not teaching our students this at any level within the academic institutions that we’re all familiar with. We’ve got to get back to recognizing that soil is a collection of living, breathing organisms, and we need to feed those organisms.”

Strip-Till Advice at WPS Farm Show

Strip-till was in the spotlight at the Wisconsin Public Service Farm Show in Oshkosh, Wis., last week. Cascade, Iowa, strip-tiller Zach Reiter, who also co-owns shortline equipment dealer Z&J Farms, was on hand to share some advice for first-time strip-tillers.  

“I talk to strip-tillers almost every day. I tell new strip-tillers to have a network. Work with a dealer that knows strip-till. There are a lot of really good equipment dealers out there. Some of them know strip-till, some of them don’t. It’s really a shift in your mind on how your whole operation works, but the shift is far worth it. It’s neat the things that we’re seeing these soils do. And how our soil health is getting better, how our yields are getting better and how we can control our costs.”

Reiter switched from conventional tillage to strip-till in 2016 to solve his labor challenges and erosion issues. He now strip-tills 100% of his corn acres.

Video of the Week: My Biggest No-Till Mistake

Our Video of the Week comes to us from the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference. A panel of veteran no-tillers were asked about their biggest mistakes. Barry Fisher, what was yours?  

“I would say pre-planting my nitrogen on an entire farm, thinking I was going to get that entire farm not only planted, but cover crops killed. All this nitrogen was on, and I got half of it planted. My sprayer came right behind it, and everything that I got planted, I got killed. But everything else it turned into a week or 2 weeks, and it was the greenest, most lush cover crop you’ve ever seen. However, then it turned dry, and it just went bad. The yield difference was probably a 40-bushel difference. Fortunately, it was a small portion of that farm. Today, the first nitrogen is going to be on my planter, and then I’ll sidedress the rest.”

That will wrap things up. 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!