Heading back to the family farm wasn’t exactly where Chris Gaesser thought he would end up.
“My original plan wasn’t to farm,” he said. “I trained to be an agronomist. I got out of school and I got a job in the industry. I learned a lot and I gained a lot of great knowledge, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I was kind of helping out part-time on the farm, and that was where I wanted to be.”
After making the realization of where his passions really were, Chris and his wife joined his parents on the family’s Iowa farm full-time where they grow corn and soybeans, as well as rye for their own cover crop seed. In 2016, Soil Health Partnership approached the Gaessers about setting up an on-farm research trial. Because SHP involved them in the decision-making process – asking what they wanted to change or improve through conservation and soil health practices – Chris jumped at the opportunity.
“It was kind of open season on whatever you wanted to do, and that’s not always the case when you’re working with bigger groups. They usually have a plan and you follow it. Instead we got to do what we wanted to do, and [SHP] kind of adapted to us, which I really like.”
Prior to working with SHP, Chris remembers standing in the house with his dad, watching spring rains wash out gullies and create a waterfall effect on their terraces. They knew their no-till practices helped, but realized it wasn’t enough. That helped set a direction for their SHP trial, which would evaluate the use of cover crops.
“Our original focus was for erosion control,” Chris said. “Preserving our assets and keeping our soil there, and making sure that we could keep [farming] for the foreseeable future.”
Throughout the process, Chris had his eye on making cover crops financial feasible. As a result, he’s gotten creative about where they can find efficiencies – including finding a species that works for their farm, fine-tuning their application process and (maybe most interestingly) choosing to grow their own cover crop seed. These changes over time have allowed the Gaessers to show one of the most profitable cover crop systems featured in our recent report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line. That said, Chris isn’t done experimenting and adjusting yet.
“As long as I can make [a new conservation practice] work and I can try it on a small scale first and it’s plausible for our business practice, I want to try something different,” he said. “I want to try something new. It’s fun; it’s exciting.”
To hear more about Chris’s soil health journey and what he recommends to farmers new to cover crops, listen to Episode 30 of The People of Soil Health Podcast in the player above or on any major podcast platform!