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Mother nature doesn’t pay monthly bills, but Mark Weinheimer believes taking her lead, by implementing low-disturbance farm operations, diverse plant species and support for wildlife, are helping him pay his.
At Synergy Farms near Pierre, S.D., Weinheimer started transitioning to no-till in 1990, and by the late 1990s he reached 100%. He now uses a 4-year rotation of wheat, corn, sunflowers and corn, with a cover crop after wheat and before sunflowers.
For a few years, Weinheimer’s rotation had been spring wheat, winter wheat, corn and sunflowers, but he had to change rotations to work in cover crops to increase the amount of time of living roots in the soil.
Moving away from spring wheat and adding an extra year of corn gave Weinheimer time to plant either spring- or fall-seeded cover crops every other year in each field. This also meant selecting a shorter-season corn hybrid that could be harvested early enough to plant wheat earlier behind the combine.
Getting wheat seeded has been a challenge, but he’s also able to better manage his workload and reduce fallow periods.
“I really like the nitrogen that legumes bring in, but I wanted them in a cover crop,” Weinheimer says. “Using cover crops also keeps the liquid carbon pathway open longer. For long-term satisfactory crop production, carbon is really the key.”
The liquid carbon pathway is the primary way long-term soil carbon is sequestered, experts say.
For many years, soil scientists believed most soil carbon was…