Tim Seifert believes it’s up to him to be a good steward of the soil, even if it means adopting practices that add more work to an already tough job. To make sure his farm will make it to the 4th generation, Tim is willing to do what it takes—and he’s ready to see if cover crops are the way to make it happen.
When Tim Seifert’s grandfather started farming in Auburn, Illinois, the year was 1945. World War II was nearing its end. The average size of a farm in the U.S. was 175 acres. Farmers were making the transition from mules to tractors, yet it still required 10-15 labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of corn on 2 acres.
Today’s technology has meant impressive increases in yield and fewer man hours per acre, yet the concerns over serving the next generation are the same as ever.
“We have to take care of the soil,” says Tim. “Sometimes that may not be easy, but farming has never been easy. We need it to be healthy for the next generation.”
For Tim, that meant joining the Soil Health Partnership in 2014 to look at how cover crops can work in real-life farm situations. Demonstration farmers like Tim participate in the program by collecting data on test plots with the help of field managers and their agronomists. Those test plots include cover crops, nutrient management and conservation tillage.
Tim grows 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans. He began doing strip till in 1979, and today that remains his main tillage focus on most of his acres. He likes how it allows him to put nutrients deep in the soil, exactly where his crops need them.
“The residue from strip till really keeps the nutrients and moisture in place in the soil,” said Tim. “it makes a great environment for seeds to get started.”
Tim became concerned with run-off and nutrient management 25 years ago and joined the area Soil & Water District. Through the years, Tim said they focused on the importance of the waterways and agriculture’s impact on them. Cover crops caught his attention as another way to prevent nitrates from migrating through the soil.
“It’s important that we use cover crops, not only to increase the tilth of our soil, but also to preserve the nutrients and things we have in the soil,” said Tim. “If this cover crop system will allow us to continue to use nitrogen to better our crops alongside a plan to protect the environment—that will be huge.”
Cover crops haven’t come without challenges on the Seifert farm. Time is limited during the harvest—the key time to put in cover crops. And knowing when to plant, what variety cover crops to put down and waiting for good weather are all challenges during what is unquestionably the busiest and most important time of the farming year. The challenges continue in the spring with timing the cover crop termination advance of planting. But Tim has never been one to shy away from hard work or a challenge.
“I am ready to see if cover crops will help keep nitrogen out of the waterways and instead in our soil. I am still learning, and I’m ready to see how it impacts the bottom line,” said Tim. “We’re stewards of the soil. It was left to us by previous generation. I want that legacy to continue long into the future.”