Last week, the NDSU Extension Service and University of Minnesota Extension hosted the annual Conservation Tillage Conference (CTC) in Fargo, ND. The conference is organized by Jodi DeJong-Hughes from the U of M and Abbey Wick from NDSU. Jodi is a soils and reduced tillage guru. Abbey started at NDSU only four years ago and has already established herself as an expert in the continually developing field of soil health. Abbey had invited my brother, Mark, and I to share our experiences with no-till farming practices and cover crops during a roundtable discussion at the CTC.
The conference started Tuesday morning with a keynote presentation from Bryan Jorgenson (pictured above) of Jorgenson Land & Cattle Partnership in Ideal, SD. Mr. Jorgenson emphasized the importance of learning about healthy soils from native prairies. He also discussed the need to look at soil health from an entire system approach, from no-till practices to diverse crop rotations to inclusion of cover crops to utilizing livestock for grazing. The "whole system" approach is a concept that stuck with me.
After the keynote address, we had the opportunity to attend several different breakout sessions. The first one I attended had to do with residue management and decomposition. One of the greatest difficulties in our no-till operation is managing residue from the previous year's crop. It starts with making sure the combine is set properly to spread the residue when we are harvesting the crop. But the inclusion of cover crops after harvest in the fall can actually facilitate the decomposition of residue much quicker than without the cover crop. That I didn't know before this breakout session.
Then after the breakout sessions there were table talks. These 30-40 minute discussions are in smaller groups and allow the conference attendees to ask questions and share dialogue. The above picture is Mr. Jorgenson's table talk. I asked him several questions about the use of livestock to help manage residue and speed up the conversion of residue to fertilizer. Cattle are integral to the system. (Guess what we're getting for Christmas, Elizabeth!) I was also impressed with his commitment to his 100% no-till system. The soil types and average climate in Ideal, SD are much different than Aneta, ND so it's hard to share the exact same practices, but I appreciated his passion for no-till.
Wednesday morning is when Mark and I hosted our roundtable discussion. We were supposed to begin at 9:30 a.m. At 9:31 there were two other gentlemen sitting at our table. I thought, "Well, I guess nobody wants to try no-till practices in northern North Dakota." Five minutes later, there were 20 or so folks sitting around our table.
I shared experiences that we've had on our farm. I've learned a great deal about no-till from Tim, and we've learned some new things together in the last few years. Mark shared pictures comparing no-till fields and conventional fields after heavy rains. The no-till fields provide greater water infiltration so we have less run-off and water erosion. We had great interaction from the group. I firmly believe this type of conference is what is going to help farmers get better. We had great instruction from the experts, but we also had the opportunity to visit with each other and learn some things that work...and just as important...the things that don't work.
A huge thank you to Abbey Wick for the invitation and to Jodi DeJong-Hughes for all her work in hosting the conference as well. It was the best farm-oriented conference I've ever attended.