Vance Johnson of Breckenridge, Minn., likes to try new things and share what he's doing.
Johnson is using a 60-acre field for 5 years of study on soil health and conservation practices in the Red River Valley.
Sugarbeet growers and other farmers will get an up-close look at some of his experiments July 13 during a field day.
Last year, Johnson planted corn into what had been a wheat field the year before. This year, he is following the corn with a Red River Valley staple — sugarbeets. The sugarbeets will be followed by corn in 2023, then soybeans and back to spring wheat.
“Sugarbeets into corn — I don’t know what that’s going to look like,” says Kim Melton with the Wilkin County Soil and Water Conservation District, who is working with Johnson on the site.
She says she doesn’t know anyone else who follows corn with sugarbeets, but Johnson says he has done it routinely.
He also had experimented with reduced tillage farming and cover crops, some other aspects of the test plot.
The field is cut into three strips: conventional tillage, strip-till and no-till. Each of the three strips is cut in half again, with one half seeded with cover crops and the other half without.
“The most challenging is going to be sugarbeets into the no-till,” Johnson says.
But like Melton, he is curious about what the crop residue will mean for soil health and yields.
For the first demonstration day in 2021, there were speakers from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service. Melton said more than 70 farmers from 3 states attended.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is supplying soil moisture and temperature probes for the different strips among other data being collected.
With the field being only 60 acres, the knowledge gained is worth it, says Johnson, who has a crop and weed science degree from the University of Minnesota.
From the first year of the test plot during the drought year of 2021, no-till and strip-till sections were
He said the strip-till had some problems with lodging, but the no-till had no lodging at all. He said there was a subtle improvement in the corn with the cover crop.
Johnson is keeping track of the economics of the experiments to know what practices might stick in the Red River Valley.
Details on this year’s demonstration day are yet to be announced.
“It’s teaching us a lot about farming these clays in the valley,” Melton says of the site. “Our soils are so different from anywhere else in Minnesota.”