A long-expected resurgence of crops in the Hills has apparently begun with the return of a few veteran farmers and a few young people who have not planted crops in the past.
This new enthusiasm is tied to commodity prices that have been increasing steadily since last fall. The people who are considering a move toward field crops are generally those who have been involved with other forms of agriculture, especially beef cattle and poultry.
I have been more than a little surprised by the fact that most of these people are planning to begin by planting into soil that has not been tilled. Most of them are setting up planters and drills to plant into sod that has not been disturbed in decades. This is very different from the pattern that existed during the soybean explosion of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Most of the potential new growers are interested in soybeans, driven by the prospect of $13 and more per bushel. They have watched as a few of their neighbors have succeeded in growing soybeans without tillage in the last few years. There is also scattered interest in no-till corn, and even cotton in areas where cotton has not been grown since the 1950’s.
As I said already, this is probably not a big movement or “paradigm shift”, at least not yet. I may be underestimating this; but at the moment I don’t feel we will see a significant increase in crops in the Hills unless prices remain very strong through this year and into 2012.
Another issue that is being discussed among potential row crop producers is that of “sodbusting”. There is a lot of misunderstanding about this subject; and it seems that there is apprehension about how to deal with it and remain in compliance with USDA regulations.
I am a little reluctant to mention it myself because of the wide variation in opinions about the subject; but it needs to be clarified before growers make significant commitments in equipment, seed and land use. The basic fact is that land can be planted to crops if the grower will adhere to the proven principles of no-tillage agriculture.
Some growers have the misunderstanding that if a crop is planted, then the sodbusting rule has been violated. However, if the land does not have an established cropping history and is “plowed up” then the sodbusting rule has been violated. One exception is that “wetland” areas should not be farmed; but that determination has to be done by NRCS. I doubt that anyone will attempt to farm a true “wetland” area anyway since crops will not do well in poorly drained areas.
Potential new growers who have any form of program participation and want to continue receiving current USDA payments should apply for and get a farm plan done by NRCS. Failure to comply could result in cancellation of existing programs and repayment of payments already received.
There is a “safety factor” here, in that when a grower makes an unintentional error in field preparation or other practices there is a one-year period during which it can be appealed and corrective measures may be done.
In essence, growers should not be concerned that someone from “The Government” will be coming to their farm like the “Gestapo” to scold them and tell them they can’t farm.
I have visited some of these fields, and in most cases a penetration probe can easily be inserted to depths of two to three feet. Nature has already prepared the soil; and tillage will only mess up a good situation.
Growers should not be planning for tillage, but for planting without tillage in fields where the “RUSLE” soil loss equation shows that soil loss will be less than the “T” value for the field. When a crop is planted into sod, the soil loss estimate should be well below “T”; and actual soil loss should be even lower.
Fields vary greatly, and there are situations where some form of tillage may be indicated; however this fact should not be used as an excuse to drag out the disk.