Ken Rosenow

Ken, Sue and Mike Rosenow are the sixth generation in their family to farm in Oconomowoc, WI on land settled before the Civil War. They grow corn, soybeans, winter wheat, and hay as their cash crops, but have tested a variety of cover crops on the farm as well. 

Peas, radish, berseem clover, sunflower, and cereal rye have all been assessed for their viability as a cover crop on the Rosenow’s Wisconsin farm. Ken Rosenow also favors a mostly no-till management approach on their acres, which he says saves on machinery investment, fuel, and labor.

“I hope that, by planting cover crops, it helps to protect the soil from erosion and to hold the nutrients for the next crop,” Ken said.

The family also believes in science-based nutrient management on their farm. Soil testing and estimating fertility needs of the crops they grow is a key component of their farm management.

Ken joined the Soil Health Partnership in 2016 to learn more about improving water infiltration and cost savings through better soil health.

“We have learned how others are using cover crops and the benefits that can be achieved,” said Ken. Plus, the opportunities to meet with other participants is very valuable.”

Dan Roehrborn

Dan Roehrborn is a fifth-generation farmer, growing corn and soybeans near the Sheboygan River Basin, now managing the same farm that has been in his family for more than 100 years.

Dan grows a mix of barley, clover and radish to improve his soil health and practices no-till in soybean fields and cover crops, varying all his practices based on the field, soil type, and crops grown. He works hard to properly manage nutrients, taking a conservative approach. “We don’t use manure and I don’t want to overspend on fertilizer,” Dan said. Instead, he prefers to take soil samples to keep nutrients in check.

Since 2015, when Dan joined the Soil Health Partnership, he has been learning how to improve soil health on his farm and sharing information with other farmers. In those short years, he’s noticed an increase in organic matter and an improvement in his soil’s capacity to hold nutrients.

“There are many ways to work at improving soil health, but there is also potential for challenges,” Dan said. “These can occur with cover crops, such as too much cover causing excessive moisture or different bugs in the soil.”

Despite the challenges, Dan will continue to try different methods on different soil types, believing it will benefit his farming operation in the long run. And, as he says, “It’s just another learning curve on the farm.”

Mike Buis

Type of Operation:
Mike, with his brother Jeff, farms 3,100 acres. Most of the cropland is in a corn-soybean or corn-soybean-wheat rotation.

View on Soil Health:
Conservation Compliance provisions require Mike, who grow crops on highly erodible land (HEL), to use conservation practices to be eligible for federal programs such as disaster assistance, conservation programs, or crop insurance premium subsidies. Although he is not required to do so, he’s added cover crops to his HEL land to ensure he is going above and beyond to minimize soil erosion.

Reason for Joining Soil Health Partnership:
He began working with the Soil Health Partnership in 2016 to experiment with cover crops.

Trials Partnered with SHP on:
Mike broadcasts wheat cover crop seed at approximately 60 pounds per acre with a fall fertilizer application (immediately after harvest) and incorporates both with a vertical tillage tool. Wheat is not harvested, so he terminates the wheat cover crop in the spring when it is approximately 12-14″ tall by burning it down with an herbicide application. Because there is no spring tillage, he plants directly into the cover crop residue with a no-till planter.

His trial is featured in the Benefits of Cover Crops Business Case.

Other Soil Health Practices Being Implemented:

Mike has about 1/3 of his acres in no-till and 1/3 in minimal tillage. He also expanded the acres he plants cover crops beyond his SHP research field.

Advantages Experienced Using New Soil Health Practices:
The biggest benefit of the wheat cover crop, in Mike’s experience, is that he uses fewer herbicides during the growing season. He estimates the value of this weed control benefit to be worth at least $10/acre. Also, although he is not required to add cover crops to his HEL, doing so ensures he is going above and beyond to minimize soil erosion-and significant increases in soil organic matter on Mike’s research field between 2016 and 2018 suggest that Mike might see long-term benefits in soil water holding capacity and nutrient cycling and availability as a result of using cover crops.

Implementing cover crops on his HEL was a natural fit for Mike after he started experimenting with cover crops on his SHP research field. Because he had already adopted minimum-till on his HEL in order to meet conservation compliance requirements, there was no additional cost, other than the seed itself, to seed or terminate the cover crop. Putting a dollar value on weed control has encouraged Mike to increase the use of cover crops.

Roger Zylstra

The Zylstra farm is a third-generation family farm in Lynnville, Iowa. Roger’s parents began farming in 1948, and he purchased it from them in 1982. Now, Roger’s son, Wes, farms the ground and Roger works alongside him.  Together, they grow 700 acres corn and soybeans, as well as a contract finishing hog operation of 5400

The Zylstras have only recently added cover crops to their farming practice. The first year, they did a small field and put in cereal rye. It went very well, so the second year they did 300 acres of cereal rye. Roger says a cool, damp spring presented challenges, but the learning curve continues.

“We are dedicated to seeing this through,” Roger says. “I do think it will pay dividends in the long term.”

For 30 years, the Zylstras have practiced no-till on most all of their ground. Roger calls it the only practical way to farm their highly erodible land.

“I’m convinced we can improve the soil by doing cover crops, no-till and good nutrient management,” Zylstra said. “I’m looking forward to the research results and knowledge we will gain by participating with the partnership.”

Greg Whitmore

Greg raises corn, seed corn, corn silage and soybeans on about 2,600 acres, some of which he can trace back to his ancestor, a Civil War officer, and an 1879 homestead in Shelby, Nebraska.

Greg has deep roots with the Soil Health Partnership, joining at its inception in 2014. “I joined because I was using cover crops and no-till. I wanted to see if the economic and environmental gains and soil quality were real or just perceived,” said Greg. “Since joining, I have seen less wind and water erosion and better water infiltration and retention.”

Most of Greg’s cover crops follow the harvesting of silage for erosion control, and to help with nutrient retention of manure applications. Other cover crop acres follow seed acres, where he grows corn under contract with a seed company to produce seed corn for them. The cover crops help with weed control.

Greg practices no-till on most of the acres.

“I use strip-till ahead of the corn acres to place nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur below where I will plant the seed,” Greg said. “On the manured acres, I can apply most of our nutrient needs with effluent from a large local dairy through our center pivots, which we must manage to meet state and federal guidelines.”

Greg says that a lot of little things can make the difference between success and failure. He’s had his cut of both, and wants to share that with other farmers to help them, and to learn from their experiences, as well.

Trinity Creek Ranch

Mikayla Tabert and her husband Benjamin are the third generation of Trinity Creek Ranch in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, which her grandparents started in 1952. They farm alongside her parents, David & Peggy Miller. Together, they have a cow-calf operation that consists of 150 beef cows along with a small feedlot. Their diverse grain operation includes raising corn, soybeans, wheat, peola (field peas grown with canola), alfalfa, turfgrass, cereal rye and sunflowers. They also sell forage and cover crop seed.

The family enjoys experimenting with new practices and constantly challenges themselves to find ways to improve soil health and profitability. This often leads to fun internal competition about what they should try next with each family member having their own idea.

The family believes cover crops improve soil health and profitability, so they joined Soil Health Partnership for additional help collecting data to prove the practice and track changes in the soil. They would like to see fellow farmers adopt conservation practices, so they plan to use their data and experience to encourage others to consider utilizing cover crops.

Currently, they are considering testing 60-inch corn to increase interseeded cover crop growth and growing corn with interseeded cover crops for winter grazing that will not be harvested. They plan to continue to reduce the use of strip-till in order to become 100% no-till, expand their use of complex cover crops for grazing and to grow multiple crops together through polycrops and relay cropping.

Kevin Ross

For Kevin Ross, soil conservation is about more than helping the environment today – it is also a priority to ensure that his farm will stay productive long into the future. He hopes his young sons will continue his family’s long-term interest in agriculture and their Western Iowa operation. As an enrolled farmer in the Soil Health Partnership, Kevin takes part in measuring the economic and environmental outcome of his soil conservation practices, which he believes will help his farm stay productive and profitable for years to come. 

“We want to protect water, soil and air, and grow more with less. And, if we can make our business more profitable through sustainability – that’s a win for all of us,” he says.

Kevin is a sixth-generation family farmer from Minden, Iowa, where he and his family grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa, and operate a 140-head cow/calf operation.

Kevin grows corn almost exclusively using no-till methods. Over the past several years, he has also used different cover crops to prevent soil erosion, take up extra nitrogen and phosphorous in the field and provide forage for the cattle. 

“As with growing any new crop on the farm, cover crops have a learning curve, but the important thing is to get started, even if it is just a small area,” he says. “Cover crops are part of my long-term strategy for soil health because I recognize that visible changes will take time to understand and evaluate. We are hoping they come with profitable outcomes as well.”

Andrew Reuschel

Andrew and Jeff Reuschel of Reuschel Farms in Golden, Illinois grow primarily corn and soybeans on 1,200 acres, some of the same acres that have been in their family for five generations. The family first experimented with cover crops and no-till in the 1970s, then again in the early 1990s. Now, 20 years later, they are returning to cover crops and no-till practices across their farm.

Since 2016, Andrew has tried about 30 different cover crop species at various planting dates to reach specific goals. He is especially interested in growing cover crop “cocktails,” a mix of varieties that often includes buckwheat, cereal rye, clover, and radishes. The cocktail mix provides diversity that Andrew likes to see in his soil ecosystem.

The father-son team joined the Soil Health Partnership in 2017 to gain a better understanding of the effects of cover crops on their farms’ soil. Since using cover crops, they report much less soil erosion, but the Soil Health Partnership will help them understand the impact on their operation through scientifically collected data. The partnership also supports the Reuschels in learning best management practices and agronomic techniques specific for their farming goals.

“We’ve been here for five generations,” Andrew said. “We’re looking to have another five generations to be on this farm, and so we’re putting our soil first and yield second, and hopefully our soil will come back and repay us, as well as future generations.”

Mark Mueller

Mark Mueller is the fourth generation to raise a family and a crop on their family farm in Waverly, Iowa.  He grows 1,800 acres of corn, soybeans, alfalfa and specialty beans, in addition to the cereal rye and tillage radishes, hairy vetch, and other legumes he’s been using as cover crops since 2006.

In 2007, Mark went completely no-till, including corn following corn.  Prior, they were a minimum-tillage farm with some fields no-till in the late 1990s.

Mark says he has gradually used less nitrogen overall. He did begin using starter fertilizer in 2015. The farm utilizes manure from a nearby dairy and hasn’t applied commercial fertilizers on those fields since 2005.

“I’ve learned a lot more about the science of soil health,” Mark says. “Specifically, I gained knowledge on nutrient availability, the soil’s microbiome and improving tilth, organic matter and reducing nutrients leaving the field.”

Brian Martin

Brian Martin farms 35 percent of Martin Row Crops in Centralia, Missouri.  He is a fifth-generation farmer on a family farm that once focused on diversified crops and livestock, but now features row crops and a cow-calf operation.  Brian entered the partnership in 2003 while still in high school and continues to grow his part of the farm while also providing independent crop consulting services for other farmers.

Brian has 80 acres dedicated to the Soil Health Partnership practices, including no-till corn and soybeans, cover crops like radishes, turnips, rye, wheat, and barley, and a nutrient management plan based on 2.5 acre grids from which soil samples help him determine how to split-apply nitrogen.

“I joined the Soil Health Partnership in 2017 because of my interest and passion for soil conservation and so that we can show that these management practices have a long-term economic benefit to our industry and future generations,” Brian said.

As much as anything, Brian has benefitted by learning from other farmers also in the partnership, best practices and sharing of ideas. He says that some of these practices have improved water infiltration rates and soil porosity on his farm. However, many of the metrics measuring improvement can take many years to change. It is a long-term process.

“Ultimately, I believe it is very important that we share what we’re doing with end-users and consumers as often as possible,” Brian said, “and that we are ever striving to become more efficient and environmentally conservative, as well as sustainable.”