Witnessing Conservation In Action

Denny Addis, president of The Andersons' Plant Nutrient Group

Critical watershed concerns such as increasing amounts of dissolved phosphorus require broad discussion and collaborative efforts among agriculture leaders, policy makers and conservationists. That’s what nearly 200 attendees experienced at the annual Conservation In Action Tour held August 9 in Northwest Ohio.

Hosted by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), this year’s tour focused on agriculture’s influence on the environmental and economic health of the Maumee River and Bay, as well as Lake Erie. Tour participants met producers implementing innovative conservation practices, observed new conservation technologies that are productive, profitable and help protect resources and discussed the region’s critical water quality issues and how agriculture can help address them.

The Great Lakes were one of the first large-scale watersheds to begin focusing of water quality, making Northwest Ohio an ideal region for this year’s tour, said Rex Martin, Syngenta’s head of industry relations, and chairman of the CTIC Board of Directors. “The importance and diversity of agriculture in Northwest Ohio around Lake Erie and the Maumee River puts it on the forefront of innovative conservation projects to help achieve both soil protection and improved water quality,” he said. “This year’s tour focused on agriculture’s influence on the environmental and economic health in these watersheds.”

CropLife® magazine joined the tour — with stops at The Andersons, Bridgewater Dairy and three area farming operations — and witnessed first-hand conservation in action.

Following The Principles Of 4Rs

Tour participants learned how The Andersons, Maumee, OH, helps producers in the region apply the right fertilizer source at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.

“We are very involved in promoting the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship,” said Al Bensch, vice president of northern operations for The Andersons Plant Nutrient Group. “Right now, 89% of the acres we apply on have been soil tested. That might be one of the highest rates in the country. We are making sure the right application goes into the right amount.”

The company is taking a proactive approach in dealing with concerns about dissolved phosphorus levels in the Maumee River, said Plant Nutrient Group President Denny Addis. “We are networking with many organizations to find the right solution to the problem and get the word out to the growers and retailers,” he said.

A Sustainable Dairy

Attendees experienced why the family-owned Bridgewater Dairy, Montpelier, OH, has earned awards for environmental stewardship. The company, which milks 4,200 Holstein dairy cows and farms more than 4,000 acres of ground in Northwest Ohio, has become sustainable and profitable through renewable energy. All of the forage and much of the corn grain consumed by its cows are grown on Bridgewater’s farms. In addition, nutrients for the crops are derived substantially by recycling cow manure. 

At the heart of the recycling process is an anaerobic digester. Manure is pumped into the digester, which is contained in a concrete underground vault. Inside the digester, methane rises to the top and is piped out to fuel two 1,000-horsepower engines. Those engines supply enough power for Bridgewater’s needs and produce surplus electricity that the farm sells to the local power company.

Bridgewater Owner Leon Weaver said there are several benefits from using the digester. “We get streams of cash flow from it, including the sale of electricity and we can accumulate carbon credits for destroying the methane,” he said. “We also can recapture the bedding for the cows and don’t have to purchase sand.”

Conservation On The Farm

Tour stops at Mavis, Dean and Hesterman farms were highlighted by the unique ways these operations have adopted sustainable crop production practices.

At the 2,900-acre Mavis farm near Edgerton, OH, Gary and Scott Mavis shared their philosophy on conservation and how they are systematically transitioning their operation to a successful no-till system. They divide each field into different yield zones based on the previous years’ yield maps and soil types.

“In 1995, we bought our first yield monitor,” said Gary Mavis, who was one of the area’s first adopters of precision agriculture technology. “After about three years we felt comfortable with the yield maps and were able to establish some management zones. We test the soil in each zone separately and evaluate results. We then variable rate our fertilizer, lime, and seed based on the results and yield potential of each zone. The key is to not overapply when it’s not needed, and precision ag technology helps us do that.”

Attendees got down in the dirt at Allen Dean’s 1,900-acre wheat, soybean and cover crop operation in Williams County, Ohio, where a soil pit showed the benefits of cover crops to soil health. Dean has recently started selling cover crop seed and services to area farmers.

“Cover crops can help improve the moisture-holding capabilities of the soil,” he said. “These crops tend to penetrate deep into the soil, helping to open it up. We see results with our wheat and soybean crops right away from them taking in nutrients that have never been tapped into before and from water infiltrating much quicker than before.”

The operation also analyzes soybean and wheat yield maps to determine zones for soil testing, Dean said. The test results help guide their decisions on precise lime and fertilizer application rates.

Hesterman Farm, a 450-acre corn, soybean and wheat operation in Napoleon, OH, hosted the tour’s final farm stop. Owner Todd Hesterman has practiced no-till continuously for 22 years and has used yield mapping for more than 14 years.

“We’ve incorporated filter strips, quail buffers, and soil sampling in the farm, and plan to install a new drainage water management system,” Hesterman said. “I’ve been blessed with a good base operation and I want to nuture it for future generations.”

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