Tim Gottman on the farm he runs with his brother, Trent, in Missouri.
Business Case: TJT Gottman Inc.
Farm owned by brothers Tim and Trent Gottman
Working with SHP since 2017
Experimenting with cover crops on SHP trial field
Partnering with Missouri Corn, Missouri Soy and Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources on their Edge of Field Water Quality Monitoring Program
Farms in Marion and Shelby Counties
Planting corn-soybean-wheat rotations
Tim Gottman farms near Monroe City, Missouri. Along with his brother, Trent, they own and operate TJT Gottman, Inc., growing corn, soybeans and wheat. While Tim remembers the days of farming with his dad and grandpa with a moldboard plow, he knows the productivity and longevity of his farm depend on continuing to evolve his approach.
Today, Tim and Trent leverage vertical tillage and cover crops to reduce erosion, maintain nutrients, and protect water quality. Through collaboration with Soil Health Partnership (SHP), Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, they are studying the impacts of these management practices – both on their farm and on the surrounding environment.
Success starts with clear goals
It was in the mid-2000s when Tim says he first started noticing a significant change in weather patterns. Rainfall events seemed more frequent and more extreme in the spring, pushing planting dates back later and later. Over years of watching his soils wash away, he and his brother worked toward strategically approaching erosion control in a way that was financially feasible for their farm.
“I don’t want to be the guy that stands in the shop every time we get a big rain and go, ‘Well…’ and just shrug my shoulders,” Tim said. “It seemed to me we needed to start adopting practices where, when that happens, you haven’t lost all your fertility, you haven’t lost all your soil – you stand to live another day. We had to do something to slow this water from running off.”
So, in 2014, they invested in a Salford® vertical tillage tool and began using cover crops. Along the way, every decision he and his brother made was driven by a singular vision.
“Our goals [with soil health] have always been around reducing erosion. And we believe that, as the soil structure improves, the price tag will be worth it.”
Tim’s approach to erosion control
Tim plants cover crops on 60% of his acres, primarily using cereal rye – because of how well it overwinters and its hardiness – but he also mixes in radishes, turnips and oats on fields with wheat stubble.
On his SHP trial field, he is comparing cover cropped strips to strips with no cover crops. The first couple of years he broadcast applied cover crop seed, similar to what he does on his non-SHP fields. However, in 2018, he chose to start using a drill for cover crop application (the same one he uses to plant wheat). Thanks to better seed-to-soil contact, the drill has helped provide more consistent stands.
Tim Gottman’s Annual Soil Health Approach
When using a cover crop and/or no-till system, management decisions need to be adjusted based on field conditions and weather. Creating a yearly plan can help to identify cost savings, opportunities for maximizing soil health benefits and alternative approaches for unknown circumstances.
The timeline below overviews Tim’s planning process, starting in late summer when cover crop decisions are initiated.
After Corn Harvest
Spring Ahead of Soybeans
Starts having conversations with local ag retailer in late July/early August for cover crop orders
Plans cover crop selection based on current crop rotation, estimated harvest dates and field needs
Begins strategically planning each field’s estimated cover crop application schedule
Contacts ag retailer to have cover crop seed broadcast applied with P&K application
for fields going to soybeans
Targets broadcasted cereal rye rates at 40 lbs. per acre
Initiates pre-plant chemical termination (April/early May), when cover crop growth is still manageable – targets the vegetative growth stage between 2-3 feet
Makes one spring vertical tillage pass, depending on soil moisture and weather conditions (cover crops are dead and turning yellow at this time)
Overall Fertilizer Program
Tim applies lime, P and K as needed for all fields, determined using a three-year grid soil sampling program. In corn, he also uses a split-applied nitrogen program to help optimize both nitrogen rate and timing. This includes applying anhydrous in the spring and top-dressing urea in-season.
Soil health is a learning process
For Tim’s timeline, challenges arise when it comes to time and labor. To cover multiple fields during the harvest season, having a local cooperative or ag retailer broadcast the field with dry fertilizer is ideal.
Another challenge has been finding a cover crop system that works before corn. In general, soybeans are harvested in October so finding an overwintering cover crop that gets well-established before the weather turns, provides erosion control and creates diversity can be difficult. Cereal rye before corn can come with its own set of obstacles and finding winter hardy brassicas and legumes has been a challenge, so Tim is looking into other grasses like barley. Tim continues to trial different species, applications and ideas to find what will work best.
Note: If you are considering planting a grass cover crop before corn, up-front nitrogen is important. Consult with your advisor for best practices when using overwintering grasses before corn.
Soil health efforts are making an impact on erosion & fertility
Through the Missouri Edge of Field Water Quality Monitoring Program, Tim is measuring soil loss on a field with cover crops and one without (these trial fields are located near his SHP field). During the last several years, he has been able to see how much soil he is saving on the cover cropped field, as compared to the one without (Figure 1), which has been about 28 tons (or two tandem dump truck loads) per acre over the last three-and-a-half years.1
That said, Tim notes that he doesn’t necessarily need the numbers to know his efforts have been beneficial.
“We’re not seeing near as much sheet erosion as we have in the past, where you would see our grass waterways just fill up with top soil.”
By looking at data from both SHP’s research and the edge-of-field study, we can see that soil structure plays a big role in keeping that soil in place. One way to evaluate soil structure is by testing for aggregate stability, which measures how well the soil holds together during rain events and is known to contribute to improved moisture infiltration. Tim has seen a significant increase in aggregate stability on his SHP trial field in the cover cropped strips (Figure 2).
Measuring soil loss via suspended solids
Evaluating changes in aggregate stability
Figure 1. Soil loss 2017-2020 between cover cropped and non-cover cropped trial fields in the Missouri Edge of Field Water Quality Monitoring Program
Figure 2: Changes in aggregate stability on Tim Gottman’s SHP trial field
Along with these benefits, Tim has seen no significant yield drag and relatively little change in net income. He said, “I think people look at the cash cost of [cover crops], but if you can save 5-10% in fertilizer per year and it stays in the soil instead of running off through erosion – I don’t have to do the math; that’s money ahead.”
1 It is important to note that, while cover crops have helped reduce erosion on that field, the non-cover cropped field has additional characteristics (e.g., topography) that made it especially susceptible to erosion – making the differences between the two fields particularly stark.
Research tells the story of agricultural sustainability
As an active member of the Missouri agriculture community, Tim knows the value of data collection in conversations around sustainability. That’s one of the big reasons he got involved in these studies. In addition to talking with his neighbors and land owners about the steps he’s taking to build soil health and reduce erosion, he believes that hard numbers help farmers advocate for themselves with elected officials.
“Any time we can show that farmers are trying to be stewards of the land and doing what we can to keep these nutrients from running off, then we can have a positive voice.”
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