Bormanns hold conservation tillage field day
Attendees had the chance to see vertical-till and strip-till out in the field
ALGONA — Self-described “ordinary guys trying to do a better job farming” hosted a field day Nov. 8 to nearly 70 farmers and agribusiness professionals, showcasing their operation.
Brothers Matt and Joe Bormann, and their father, Mark Bormann, farm near the LuVerne and Algona area in Kossuth County. For the last six years, they have been practicing strip-till, vertical-till, cover crops and have also installed water ways onto their farms.
“We care deeply about the soil and we wanted to show more people about what we do,” said Matt Bormann. “I suggested we have a field day, a come and go day with our machinery running. We have the strip-till going on in one field and the vertical-till going on in another. We have shown people our cover crops and our waterways we had put in to help stop gully erosion.”
Bormann said they run all Krause equipment, including the Krause Excelerator vertical-till machine and the Krause Gladiator strip-till machine. The strip-till machine also features a nine ton Montag tank for fertilizer.
The family decided to venture into the vertical-till and strip-till practices after a family board meeting.
“At the end of the meeting, Joe brought strip-till to our attention,” he said. “He had some customers in his crop consulting business he was working with that were trying it. He said that corn is $7 and someday it’s going to be $3 and we should try to think about what we’re going to do about that.”
“We talked about it and we ended by buying a new Montag six ton car and an old junky anhydrous barn and put it together.”
They decided, after they were done with their fall tillage, they would give it a try on just a few hundred acres.
“At the end of the year, Joe had people calling wanting to try some on their farm and we ended up doing 1,000 acres that first year,” said Bormann.
Things started to evolve from there.
“We used to work the ground and in soybean stubble we laid the strip and still would field cultivate,” he said. “In 2013, we started just planting on some of the strips like we were supposed to do and then in the 2014-2015 time period, we quit running a field cultivator all together on any of our strip-till acres and then thereafter the vertical-till system has worked its way into our operation.”
Bormann said unless their field has a manure source that has been applied, all of their beans were no-tilled into a vertical-till pass and all of the corn was planted strip-till.
At first, Bormann said using these methods was an attempt at saving money.
“But we’re finding now one of the things that excites us the most is better water infiltration and better soil quality and that goes hand in hand,” he said. “I understood that, heard those presentations from really smart people with Ph.D.s and I said, ‘For this C student to figure it out and see that,’ is just amazing.”
Bormann said that by using a strip-till practice for just a few years, producers should start seeing less ponding.
“Your water is not going to run off of your fields as much,” he said. “It’s going to soak into the soil, and your soil quality is going to get better. Your soil won’t be so ungodly hard and packed all of the time.”
Bormann explained he believes tillage doesn’t break up the soil like many think it does.
“Tillage breaks the soil structure down and then it makes it harder,” he said. “We think tillage does good, but all an intense tillage pass does is destroy the soil structure. We’re building soil structure by doing less tillage.”
Bormann said they try to get all of their combining done in the fall before they start with any sort of tillage. They will then put one tractor on the vertical-till machine to start smoothing off stalks for soybeans to be planted in next year.
The other tractor, he said, is put onto the strip-till machine and works on the soybean stubble and places fertilizer for planting corn into in the spring.
They have also been trying this process for some corn on corn acres.
“We have been laying strips for corn on corn,” he said. “Our total operation is about 200 acres corn on corn. The rest is rotated acres.”
Come spring, they plant.
“That’s all we have to worry about,” Bormann said. “We plant and put on pre-emergence herbicide.”
Some nitrogen goes on with the planter and they will come back through with a variable rate sidedress of nitrogen.
“We have three passes with nitrogen and the rate all depends on the farm and depends on the yield goal.”
Bormann said they were able to cut a quarter of a million dollars worth of equipment off their lineup and have seen huge savings in addition to better soil quality with the strip-till and vertical-till practices.
“We were able to use that cash to help pay down land,” he said. “We don’t have every morning spent fixing field cultivator sweeps and broken bolts; not paying as much in fuel and having to maintain all of that equipment. We got rid of a nice Case IH four-wheel-drive tractor — we just didn’t need it anymore. We’re not buying as many filters, oil, sweeps, points and bolts, all of that stuff. It just made a huge difference and our soil quality has gotten better. Soil isn’t as hard and I can dig a spade in easier and our yields haven’t suffered.”
The family even have had the opportunity to do some yield comparisons.
Bormann said they had 200 acres that had a lot of tiling done and so they had to chisel plow the field in order to help smooth it out. They were able to compare that field with the full tillage to a field that was strip-tilled.
“We had the same varieties as the field right across the road from it that was strip-tilled and that strip-tilled farm beat it by about 12 bushels to the acre,” he said.
Bormann said with big talk right now on nutrient management and proper nutrient placement, they are able to better place fertilizer and use ESN nitrogen — which is an encapsulated urea with their strip-till operation.
“It releases nitrogen throughout the growing season once it warms up and starts getting rainfall,” he said. “We use the Montag air delivery systems and all of that technology to help us reduce nitrogen leaching out through the tile lines.”
Strip-till, he said, enables them to use these new products like the ESN and feel if regulations are ever placed on producers, they will be prepared. He added that if more producers start the process of proper nutrient placement, maybe things won’t have to be regulated.
“I have been going to a lot of seminars and I am trying to go to seminars by people that may not be farmer friendly, just to hear what their take is,” he said. “There are people that want to regulate farming more and the trouble is, even the guy doing strip-till, they will be effected.”
Bormann said the last thing he would buy new is a ripper, especially with using commercial fertilizer.
“People have to start looking at these new methods,” he said. “We don’t want to get regulated by the government. These are the last people we want trying to tell us how to farm.”
He suggests giving strip-till and vertical-till, cover crops and other conservation efforts a try.
“They need to try some of these new practices on their farm,” he said. “They need an attitude more than anything and just try it on 40 or 80 acres. Don’t go buy a bunch of equipment. Find someone that knows what they’re doing and pay them to come in and do it for you, or rent it from somebody and try to get yourself acclimated.”
“There’s a learning curve to doing it, but you have to have the willingness to try and a lot of guys don’t even want to try it,” Bormann added. “They have got to change their attitude to actually want to try.”
His wife, Nancy Bormann, is a commissioner with the Kossuth County Soil and Water Conservation District and said their family’s farming operation fits well with the Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
“With more focus in Iowa on the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, and all of the practices for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus, a lot of what we are doing fits in line with those things and every little bit counts,” she said. “No one wants to waste fertilizer. Farmers don’t want to waste money, and this is also environmentally-friendly as well.”
Nancy Bormann said the field day was sponsored by Carroll Implement and Iowa Corn as well as the Kossuth Soil and Water Conservation District.