In 2020 we made our first attempt at cover crops. Cover crops improve soil structure by loosing soil and adding organic matter to the soil. Having actively growing plants in the soil for more months of the year increased overall microbial activity in the soil. We also hope to use them as an alternative livestock forage. We worked with the Allen County SWCD use inner seeder to plant cover crop seed between corn rows. The corn yield was 7 to 8 bushels higher where the cover crops grew. Our plan was to expand the inner seeding of cover crops to field scale plots in 2021, but weather weather during the summer of delayed planting. In the fall of 2021 we broadcast seeded two corn fields with different cover crop seeds with limited success. We continue to work in making cover crops successful on the farm.
The banks of the Jacob-Kohler ditch were experiencing severe erosion due to improper ditch maintenance in the past. We lost 5 to 8 feet of our farm along the ditch the first few years of owning the Rohrbach farm. Over the course of 5 years we worked with the county drainage board, NRCS, IDNR, and Army Core of engineers to develop a corrective plan. In 2019 we began construction on the longest one sided 2-stage ditch in Indiana to date. The project required the excavation of over 450 triaxle dump trucks of soil. This design increases ditch volume which in turn slows the water thus reducing bank erosion, in addition to reducing stream flooding for us and our neighbors upstream.
In 2018 we installed a small grass waterway ourselves. In this location water flow was concentrated in a defined path that resulted in the water cutting a 2 foot deep erosion gully. To spread out the flow, slow the water flow, and avoid machinery we dug a water channel with a wide flat bottom. The bottom of the channel was lined with straw mate to help establish grass and hold the soil in place.
From that first conservation decision, the conservation of soil and water has taken a larger and larger roll in the management decisions on the farm. Since adopting no-till, we have initiated several conservation projects and practices. The key to the success of these projects has been working in cooperation with the local FSA (Farm Service Agency), NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), and local SWCD (Soil and Water Conservation District), Army Core of Engineers, IDNR (Indiana Department of Natural Resources), USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) along with a variety of local government agencies and organizations. Wayne Trace Farms was named Allen County River Friendly Farm for 2022!
Jacob-Kohler Ditch before 2-stage construction
Advanced technology provides multiple benefits. It steers the farm machinery allowing the operator to focus on machine performance and allows us to easily operate machinery in no-till conditions at night. The system records data for all field operations, monitors machine performance that the operator could not otherwise monitor. and adjusts product application rates bases on preset field maps.
To maximize grazing forage production, the pasture is divided in to smaller segments or paddocks with temporary fencing. The sheep are rotated between the paddocks every 4 to 7 days. This allows the pasture forage to regrow without being grazed further. This increases forage production, reduces overgrazing that could lead to soil erosion, and increases the lifespan of the pasture.
In 2017 we worked with a USDA civil engineer to design a new grass waterway though the field behind the farmstead. The completed grass waterway acts like a seasonal ditch that allows large amounts of water after a heavy rain to quickly pass through the farm to the drainage ditch at the south end of the farm without eroding or flooding the field.
From the beginning we have focused on conservation. The first conservation decision was to plant our crops will out tilling the soil. While this originally was an economical decision, it began our conservation journey. By choosing no-till we could farm with less machinery. This allowed us to invest in advanced technology to further enhance our crop farming. We learned this decision reduced how much soil and nutrients were leaving our farm fields while increasing soil quality. Resulting in higher crop yields over time.
A no-till cropping system means we do not till the soil and plant directly into the residue of the previous crop. Tilling our erodible fields can lead to soil and nutrients washing down stream during heavy rains. Over time the soil quality improves without tillage. No-till requires a high level of management. while yields can decline the first few years the results are worth the effort.
The farm has a open door policy for anyone that wants to learn or experience more. We have hosted educational classes for elementary children from the city, collage agricultural classes, hosted SWCD meetings for land owners considering conservation practices, and tours for professional USDA staff. NRCS staff have used our farm for training of new staff and continuing education for experienced staff. Some of the education opportunities are as simple a the neighborhood children and their parents coming to the farm to enjoy baby lambs and chicks.
The key to long term success of the farm will require the inclusion of the community around us in what we do. Often the general public has concerns about agriculture simply because they do not understand what we do, it is time to change that.
We identify conservation challenges with every piece of land we manage and then utilize experience and contacts to work with local, state, and federal resources to find solutions to these challenges.
We adopt a no-till cropping system on all of our acres and intensively manage soil fertility. Our goal is to improve the fertility of the soil and do our best to ensure the water leaving the land is cleaner under our management.
We are driven to increase yields while reducing inputs, which reduces production costs and environmental impact at the same time.
Soil samples are collected in each field every 2-3 years, once per crop rotation as directed in the nutrient management plan we develop for each farm. Using GPS software each field is divided into smaller segments and each segment is managed separately. The repeated soil sampling in the same location allows us to monitor changes in soil fertility over time.