p o n s o r B o x
Innovative Farmers of Ohio
Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) is dedicated
to promoting -- through research, education, and
community-building activities -- an agriculture
that preserves and strengthens the economic, social,
and environmental well-being of Ohio's farms,
farm families, and rural communities, and protects
and improves the health and productivity of Ohio's
land's and waterways. It serves as a bridge to
sustainable agriculture for many farmers and institutions.
IFO facilitates on-farm field days, learning
circles and on-farm research. It builds support
for local food systems as one of 14 members of
the Ohio Food and Farm Network. It is housed at
the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, Ohio:
Innovative Farmers of Ohio
3083 Liberty Road
Delaware, OH 43015
Hog health, Canada thistles
and bad boots still challenge Thompson management
For the Thompsons, challenges remain. They have
been unable to find a successful freeze-branding
system for their cattle. At present they have
cattle with brands from four different years,
none of which can be read in the winter. Pneumonia
in the herd also has been a problem.
They have experienced a high death rate in their
hogs because antibiotics are not being used. Pathogens
have built up in the hog facility despite efforts
to limit them by putting lime on the ground after
cleaning. The hog operation might require a break,
Another struggle comes with the Canada thistle
and its invasion of pasture ground. But with a
combination of science and biodynamic timing,
things are looking up, Thompson said. He’s
committed to do as researchers recommend: chisel
hard, three to five times, in 21-day intervals.
He chisels in sync with the moon cycles, or at
least at high moon. Most of Thompson’s soil
disturbing is done at night to minimize weed growth.
Always the problem-solver, Thompson admits that
he has been unable to “de-feet” an
ongoing boot problem. Today’s farm boots
are just not cutting it, he said. Once made with
rubber, they are now made with PVC. Thompson has
yet to successfully repair the reoccurring crack
above his toes that forms in the new, less pliable,
But unless bad boot material is a more difficult
problem than the other issues on their farm, it
will not be long until the Thompson’s figure
out a fix through energy, innovation and determination.
These traits brought them prior success, and have
made them an inspiration and a mentor couple to
sustainable farmers across the country, according
to Laura Ann Bergman, IFO executive director.
MT. VERNON, Ohio—Cover crops and crop
rotation are sure foundations on which a stable sustainable
farm is built. Although finding the perfect system for a farm
may never really be achieved, Dick and Sharon Thompson of Boone
County, Iowa, look to be well on their way.
During the recent Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) 11th annual
conference, the Thompsons shared their success stories and
struggles with farmers looking to make the transition to profitability.
“We’re going to show you some fantastic numbers,
but I don’t want this to be intimidating,” said
Dick Thompson at the start of his first session. “I
don’t want you under the chairs or under the tables
hiding. This is to bring hope and promise. We just figured
up that this is year 37 since we made the switch, and if I
haven’t made any progress in 37 years, I’m not
showing you much hope in the program.
“There’s no way that we can come here and pretend
that we have it all figured out,” he said. “We
ask people to adapt pieces of what we say or what anybody
else says. I strongly do not recommend somebody adopting our
whole program. Every farm is different.”
||"There’s no way that we
can come here and pretend that we have it all figured
out . . . We ask people to adapt pieces of what we say
or what anybody else says. I strongly do not recommend
somebody adopting our whole program. Every farm is different."
Success at the Thompson farm has come with time and hard
work. The couple began farming in 1958. After 10 years of
conventional farming they made the switch to sustainable agricultural
practices. Their 300-acre farm now consists of cattle, hogs
and a five-year crop corn-soybeans-corn-oats-hay rotation.
And after years of conducting on-farm research the Thompsons
have found a profitable farming system that has increased
their net income by $152 per acre.
In 2002, the Thompsons saw their largest labor and management
return of the last 15 years. Their five-crop rotation gave
them a $228-per-acre advantage over the Boone County conventional
farming system of a corn-soybean rotation. Without government
programs, the Thompsons had a $200 return per acre while conventional
farmers had a negative $28 return, according to the Thompson
on-farm research report.
And while many farming elements are important to the Thompsons’
success, crop rotation and cover crops are key. The method
of crop planting has enabled the Thompsons to minimize nutrient
losses and soil erosion while maintaining a controlling balance
for insects and weeds.
“The word of the day is rotation,” Thompson said
during his second session. “Rotation of crops, rotation
of tillage, rotation. The only place that you can’t
use it is in marriage … otherwise, it’s a pretty
||"The word of the day is rotation.
. . Rotation of crops, rotation of tillage, rotation.
The only place that you can’t use it is in marriage
. . . otherwise, it’s a pretty good word."
In rotation of tillage, the Thompsons use ridge-tillage during
the three years of row crops--corn, soybeans and corn--and
then level the ridges off with a disc. They use a chisel plow
to work on Canada thistle and then a field cultivator is used
in the spring.
Later a flex harrow is dragged ahead of the drill to help
increase orchard grass in the hay planting for a weed-suppressing
sod crop. The Thompsons use a pulverizer (that firms the soil)
behind the drill to increase oat yields. They use a moldboard
plow to incorporate the hay crop after its contribution, and
the rotation starts again.
Along with their crop rotation and systematic tillage rotation,
the Thompsons also have looked to cover crops to help increase
profits. After analyzing years of research, the couple has
found a cover-crop system fit for their farm.
“If you came to our farm the first of May, nine out
of the 10 fields would be green either with cover crops, pasture,
or hay crops,” Thompson said. “And the one field
that we plow in the fall -- that would be black. Maybe we
can do something about that.”
Thompson uses rye to bridge from hay to begin the rotation
with corn. After the hay is plowed under, twin rows of rye
are planted on the ridges as a fall cover crop. The rye is
planted in 6-inch intervals at about 20 pounds per acre, equating
to about a $2.50-cost per acre. In the spring, the 4-inch
to 6-inch tall rye is cut and left on the field to serve as
weed control. A Buffalo planter is then used to dislodge the
rye roots as it places corn under loose soil.
||"If you came to our farm the
first of May, nine out of the 10 fields would be green
either with cover crops, pasture, or hay crops . . . And
the one field that we plow in the fall -- that would be
black. Maybe we can do something about that."
This system limits tillage, which in turn reduces compaction
and weed growth, Thompson said. When the ground is stirred,
farmers get weeds because buried seed is exposed to sunlight.
Early weeds also can serve as a cover crop for the corn,
but they have to be controlled. “Use weeds as a cover
crop, early, then take them out,” Thompson said. After
the corn is harvested, the oats and hay serve as a cover crop
Cover crops chosen by a farmer should be based on particular
needs, agreed Ben Stinner, who was on hand for the presentation.
Stinner is the W.K. Kellogg endowed chair of the agroecosystems
management program at Ohio State University. Farmers want
a cover crop that will provide photosynthesis in times of
little activity and will work to provide needed nutrients.
Rye grows in late fall and in early spring when it is cold
and other grasses are not growing. Rye also has a root system
that will grow farther down into the soil and absorb nutrients
that are lacking in the top layers of the soil, Stinner said.
A farmer in Ohio might choose a different cover crop than
the rye used by the Thompsons. It depends on the field, and
Iowa and Ohio lands differ, Stinner said. Iowa fields are
higher in potassium and calcium, at least in the top layer
of the soil. Soil potassium levels in Ohio are spread more
evenly throughout the soil strata because of the state’s
wetter climate and water movement through soil.
At the same time, a farmer should consider cover crops that
parallel farming practices. For instance, while tillage adds
oxygen to the soil, it is not the only way to get oxygen.
Diverse crop rotations and additional organic matter also
play a role in oxygen movement.
Good management systems will help to establish a farm that
can withstand hardships from weather and management slips.
For instance, having higher microbial activity in the soil
will help build an internal capacity to better hold nutrients,
Stinner said. So in tough years, those fields will be able
to carry the farmer and provide more stability. Basically,
mistakes can be made and the farmer can still survive.
Success comes down to balance, Thompson said. Farmers need
a balance between crops and animals; weeds and insects; tillage
and nutrients; sun and rain; spirit, body and soul; work and
play. These and others values create true balance, including
a balance in the bank account.