Several years ago, a trip with friends to look at greenhouses led Loran Steinlage to a Mennonite farm. It was there that he started looking at his farming practices a little differently.
The farm owner had a brand new, ice-block construction house and shop and three brand new Massey Ferguson tractors. “And if you understand the Mennonite faith, they don’t borrow money, so he’s making some serious money on 20 acres,” he told attendees at the National No-Tillage Conference in January. “From that time on, I’ve really been trying to focus how we do things on our farm.”
And Steinlage’s farm doesn’t look like most others in his state. Soil tests, crop yields and even infrared videos from his fields are proof enough that no-tilling, cover cropping and alternative planting systems are improving his farm’s soils and profitability.
Steinlage’s 750-acre farm sits in the northeast corner of Iowa in the Paleozoic plateau, on the edge of the glacial-till line. His area only sees 140 frost-free days, and he estimates his fields have at least two dozen soil types.
Steinlage used to raise continuous corn for…