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
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, Thompson said.
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, material.
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
||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
||"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
“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 good word.”
||"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
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
||"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 for themselves.
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
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
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.