After a challenging harvest in 2018, Jasper County, Iowa, farmer Roger Zylstra had high hopes the weather would be friendlier to his farm in 2019. Unfortunately, a high soil moisture profile this fall has him concerned about 2020. But a history of conservation practices that keep his soil protected gives him some peace of mind.

“The reality is we are not in control of the weather and need 4R Plus practices to protect our soil,” he said.

Zylstra was introduced to no-till in the ’60s and continues to fine-tune nutrient management and add conservation practices to protect the soil and the profitability of the farm.

Zylstra took advantage of a mostly sunny day to seed some acres to cover crops in late September.

Zylstra and his son, Wesley, started the 2019 harvest in mid-September and wrapped up in early November. Soybean yields met his expectations of being about 10% below trend line. “It was wet and cold too long in May and June to get the kind of early growth that’s needed to build higher yields,” he said.

For corn, he had some disappointing yields, but record-high yields in other fields were a positive surprise. “Given everything that was thrown at the crop, we’re glad to have this year’s harvest behind us,” he added.

Cover crops were in the plan this fall, but cold conditions limited growth. “We like cover crops because they add organic matter to the soil and help firm the ground for the manure that’s injected in the fall,” he said. “Years like this remind me how important it is to drill down on the 4Rs of nutrient management. We need to be placing nutrients correctly.”

Analyzing harvest data is the starting point for the 2020 crop plan. “We have seen some surprising results in the past. The fields we think might need a particular chemical application may not,” he said. “Collecting data helps determine the right nutrients and delivers them to the right place and at the right time. We are focused on getting the nutrients to the plants instead of building fertility levels across whole fields. This is important for our farm from an economic and sustainability standpoint.”

Zylstra has seen the benefits of no-till farming for decades and encourages farmers to evaluate tillage systems and determine if there are other conservation practices that could be implemented. “The structure of our soil has improved, which allows it to store more water and support the load of machinery better. That was critical this year,” he said. “There is plenty of evidence that says you don’t have to turn a field black to grow good corn yields. We can’t afford to lose the soil.”

Click here to ask Roger a question about his farming operation.