Buffalo Center farmer finds advantages in conservation

Zack Smith has been doing strip-till since 2011 at his family farm east of Buffalo Center. Combined with planting cover crops, Smith says he’s seen better soil health and improved yields.

There has been a lot of talk the last few years about using soil conservation practices to improve water quality in Iowa, but those practices can also benefit a farmer’s bottom line.

Zack Smith has experienced benefits at his family farm east of Buffalo Center since he began implementing conservation practices in 2011. He tried strip-till for the first time that fall.

“I got into it for the primary purpose of trying to be more efficient and have less passes across the field,” said Smith. He does all his primary and secondary tillage in a single pass in the fall. He says that saves him anywhere from one to three passes across the field compared to what he did prior with conventional tillage, and he doesn’t own any tillage equipment other than his strip-till machine.

“I don’t have a field cultivator, I don’t have a ripper, I don’t have a plow,” said Smith. “I don’t have to have a big monster tractor to pull those things, either. It allows me to farm with less machinery cost.”

Smith plants his crops in 30 inch rows over a tilled strip 8-10 inches wide, and he alternates where he plants each year by moving back and forth 15 inches. He applies all his nutrients into the strip in the fall after doing soil testing. “I inject my phosphorus and potassium 5-7 inches in the ground to minimize the risk of them washing away in the spring,” said Smith. He says the nutrients go exactly where the root mass will be, so there is a higher degree of efficiency in making sure the roots will intercept the fertilizer.

The positive effects of using strip-till were evident in Smith’s first year of trying it, when a drought struck in 2012. He was still plowing some acres that first year, and he says his yield was about 25 bushels/A better on the acres with strip-till, due to the impact of the drought. That experience convinced him to do strip-till on all his acres.

In 2014, Smith went a step further with his conservation efforts and fully integrated cover crops on all his acres. He plants cereal rye and red clover in the fall, using a drill seeder.

For the full story, see the Agriculture section in this week's Buffalo Center Tribune. Subscribe by calling 1-800-558-1244 ext 122 or email Deb at circulation@midamericapub.com or by clicking here.