On this special edition of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast, brought to you by the Pluribus Lite from Dawn Equipment, we’re revisiting the top 3 most listened to interviews of 2022.
What would you do if the axle on your strip-till bar snapped in the middle of a field while you were planting? Davenport Iowa’s Robb Ewoldt turned it into an experiment – one that ended up proving the difference in yield that strip-till can make compared to no-till. Ewoldt’s interview was our most listened to Strip-Till Farmer podcast in 2022.
Jerry Hatfield explains why farming is more complex than rocket science in our second most listened to podcast of 2022. The retired director of the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment shares data indicating how strip-till increases soil organic matter, what’s an ideal water infiltration rate for soil and more.
BigIron Auction Company co-founder Mark Stock rounds out our top 3 with advice on when to sell your used ag equipment. Stock explains what to consider when deciding to sell, his advice for getting equipment ready for sale, insights on the current used ag equipment market and more!
The Strip-Till Farmer podcast is brought to you by Dawn Equipment.
Dawn Equipment, a family-owned company in Sycamore, Illinois, has a reputation for responsive customer service and American-made quality products that goes back to its origin nearly 3 decades. The company has grown to more than 40 employees and numerous products, earned awards for innovative design plus a growing number of patents, but it has not lost its commitment to U.S. made products. And customers and dealers can still call to speak directly with sales and engineering staff. Dawn has redefined several market segments like strip-till and active hydraulic control of planter and attachments. Dawn was the first company to make a remotely controllable planting product. Dawn continues its commitment to innovation, to customer service, and to active response to the changing needs of America’s farmers. Visit them at www.dawnequipment.com.
Hello and welcome to a special edition of the Strip-Till Farmer Podcast, brought to you by the Pluribus Lite from Dawn Equipment. My name is Noah Newman, associate editor. Great to have you with us, as always. And man, oh man, the year flew by, didn't it? Can't believe 2022 is coming to an end. Today we are revisiting the top three most listened to podcasts of 2022. First up, coming in at number three, Mark Stock, the co-founder of BigIron Auction Company, sits down with managing editor Michaela Paukner and shares advice on when to sell your used ag equipment. Roll tape.
My name is Mark Stock and I'm one of co-founders of BigIron Auction Company, formerly known as Stock Auction Company back in the early eighties when my brother Ron and I started the auction business out in Nebraska. And then we evolved into selling machinery on the open outcry circuit, so to speak, and covering multiple states, and then in 2001 we started broadcasting open outcry auctions in real time over the internet. So we were I think the only auction company in that time using the internet in that regard on a mobile application. So we'd go to the farmer's place to have the retirement sales and then we'd be broadcasting that signal to the tens of people at that time that were actually watching, and then that eventually evolved into a lot more people in 2006 and '07. We could see it was really getting a lot of traction pretty quickly.
And then in 2008 when the ethanol was introduced into agriculture, we seen corn prices go from $2.20 cents to $3.60 cents and farmers were really enjoying that opportunity for that additional revenue and making money. So our retirement sale business, which was the big portion of our business, dropped from 3.5 auctions a week to 3.5 auctions a month. So we said, "Geez, nobody wants to quit when they're making money." So we always had people call us up and say, "Well, I've got these four or five items I want sell, and when's your next consignment sale going to be here in our community?" It's like, "Well geez, you just can't put a sale together with four or five items. You have to put together a sizeable amount of machinery." I said, "Why don't we just try this timed internet thing?" And we branded it BigIron in 2009.
So in February of 2009, that's when we had our first timed only auction that was branded BigIron, and that just took off unbelievably fast. We started having little town hall informational meetings, and we'd rent the local community building that was packed full of people all wanting to know how they can sell one or two or three pieces of machinery 'cause they were a little bit frustrated going to an implement dealership and working out a trade, and finding out that their thing was probably worth considerably more than what they were allowed for. Then they said, "If we go in with cash," they thought they got a better deal. So our business went from 21 items the very first sale to 60 items the second sale to over 200 items the third sale, and then we started doing twice a month instead of once a month.
And then one month later we started doing it every week because it was just really gaining a lot of traction, and I think some of the secret to the sauce was that we did everything absolutely. So the people that put the equipment on the sale had to sell it, and even though it never happens, even if it brings a dollar, you had to sell it, which we've been in this business long enough to know that that doesn't happen. There was always somebody out there looking, there's enough people that are looking to buy something reasonably priced somewhere else, and if they can use it and flip it and make a buck, they're going to do that. So there's always the wholesale market out there, but once we started doing the absolute sale and not charging any buyer's fees because there started to be some other folks that were charging fees for a buyer who participated in an online auction, our registrations grew pretty quickly.
And people liked the fact that we've always provided the owner's name, which was unheard of. And in fact, we had people tell us all the time, "Well, they're just going to go around you and the buyer's just going to go direct and buy it directly from that seller," and we said, "Well, they'll only do it once. We just won't do business with them again, so that's a decision that they have to make." And so far we've never had that happen. In all them years, not one time as anybody went around us and sold it before it was sold. And now, fast forwarding to how many years that is, 11 years in the space, more than that, we've got over 300 reps across the United States and we sold 87,000 pieces of machinery in 2021. And an interesting part about it is the average piece of equipment travels 305 miles.
So that means those items that are only moving 20 and 30 miles, your next door neighbor bidding on your stuff, look at the distance. Some of that stuff has to go to average 305 miles. So there's a lot of equipment that sells in Utah that ends up in Florida and stuff that sells and West Virginia that'll go out to Utah or Wyoming or Arizona and every place in between. It's been fun and we've got a tremendous team of outstanding people, and we like to help farmers and ranchers and business people and truck drivers and all those people have something they want to sell. We want to find that valued bidder, somebody that wants to buy it. So we want to bring 10 people to the dance that all want that one item and then just let competition through an absolute auction, an auction that nobody's gaming anybody, establish what that price is. Just let the free market do what the free market's supposed to do.
The amount of equipment you've been selling over the past 11 years has greatly increased. Have you seen any trends since you started to now?
Well, we've noticed that because of the internet and because of the availability for people to bid from our mobile apps, there really isn't a season anymore. So back in the day when the open outcry business was going on, you had to have your sales in November, December, January, February and March because in April there, everybody started farming, and in October everybody was harvesting, and those months in between everybody was pretty busy. You had a little bit of a slow time in late July and August, with the exception of those that were full scale irrigation farmers, then you could put on some sales during that time. But the rest of the time people had to be there in person, otherwise you weren't going to have a crowd big enough to get market value. But now because of the internet, there is not a bad time to sell anything anymore.
There are people that are looking all over the country all the time. So when harvest is taking place in Texas for wheat, when they get done, if they're not part of the U.S Custom Harvesters organization or they're moving north, then they want to sell that combine and that wheat head, they put it on BigIron because somebody in Kansas or Nebraska or South Dakota, they're looking for a combine harvesting wheat. And it kind of just flows like that. We've noticed that there is no bad time to sell and there's no good time to sell, it's just sell whenever you feel the need because the market is established because of the availability of what the internet brings to people. People will be in their tractor with the auto steer on planting corn, buying a piece of machinery that they can use a week from now because they can do it then.
That's interesting. So now in the first two months of 2022, what has the used equipment market looked like?
Well, we've noticed that the number of pieces is a little bit less than last year in January, and that's because nobody really wants to let loose of what they have until they get the replacement item, so that's their strategic move. But what we've noticed is the revenue that was generated in 2022 on less pieces is actually higher on average per piece than it was in 2021. So we're seeing quite a bit of an increase in the value of everything being sold, and that's because nobody can get anything new. Or if you get something new, there's 10 people wanting it. You have to have it ordered and paid for almost now to even get an order processed. It's tough getting supply products to assemble something to put together. Bearings, just try to find bearings. Try to find electronic components to put stuff together. It's a challenge, and I feel for all the OEMs because they've got people that want to buy that stuff and it's not readily available because of COVID has really messed up supply chains.
So you said that equipment is getting a higher price per piece right now in 2022. Do you have some examples of what has sold and what those prices look like?
Yes, I do. In fact, six years ago we sold a mini excavator for a gentleman who was retiring and the gentleman that bought it used it in his little operation, now he's retiring. That same piece, same serial number, more hours obviously, sells for $6,700 more. And we've got other examples of similar machines, not maybe the exact same machine, but very similar machines that sold very well. We sold a 2014 grain trailer that the person bought brand new, and he sold it on our year-end December sale and it brings $1,500 more than what he paid for it.
So he used that machine for all them years and he got rewarded at the end for that same time period. And we're seeing the same thing, the sale that was just conducted in the middle of February back during the National Farm Machinery Show, the John Deere 9460R tractor brings $176,000 and he had an appraised two years ago for doing his financial statement and they appraised it $109,000. So in two years, that's how much the price has increased, and that is because of numerous things. Supply chain, number one. Number two, commodity prices are really, really good right now. $6 bean opportunities. New crop corn is $5.50 and old crop corn now is $6.50 in a lot of locations and ethanol plants, but there was people selling their new crop beans for over $14 for November delivery.
And I know the inputs are up, that's just the way it works, but even if you calculate all the input costs, they're still pretty good profit margins for pretty good operators. And they've got money to spend because the one thing they don't want to do is pay a lot of tax for some reason. The farmer's number one concern is to make sure that their family's taken care of, but number two is make sure they don't pay any more taxes than they have to, and that's primarily because they're just frustrated with the way the government operates anymore. I sit in coffee shops and talk to farmers all the time and they're happy to pay taxes if the deficit goes the right way, but it isn't. It keeps getting higher and higher and higher.
Like the one farmer told me, he says, "If I had to wait two years in a row without getting my banker paid up, they would've just shut me down and I don't understand how it works now." That's why he doesn't want to have his sale yet, because he doesn't want to pay the income tax. And he said, "All I am is feeding the monster." Those are his words, "I'm just feeding a monster." And that's a concern of a lot of the farmers all across the Midwest, and that's one of the reasons why they have been holding onto equipment and not selling. But now we're seeing a little bit of a shift because they figure well, it's gone up 30, 35%. If I sell it, I'm going to end up with more money than I would've if I would've sold it two years ago after I'd paid most of their recaption or their tax or depreciation and such.
Okay. That was something I wanted to ask, was what would you say I guess to help them decide when the best time to sell is?
My advice to people when they ask is if you're wanting to retire, we know things are high right now. We don't know a year from now if things are going to get a little bit more back to normal, and if that happens, we'll probably see a shift where more equipment is coming off the factory lines and then that's going to ease the supply change and then demand will be less for good, quality used equipment cause they'll move more towards new. We also know that interest rates may rise and they're claiming they're going to rise, and if they do, that usually has an impact on people's operations and their cash flows and that might influence its value. We do know right now that in my almost 40 years of being in this space, I've never seen tractors and planters and combines and corn heads and sprayers and tillers and discs bring the same amount of money that it did when they bought it five, 10 years ago.
I've never seen it. I've never seen that. A John Deere 4440, which is an iconic tractor, a good one $25,000 on an auction, on average $20,000, below grade 16,000. Now the good one's $35 to $40, the average one's $30, the blow grade $25,000. Sooner or later, I bet that's going to come back to where it was three, four years ago. So now my advice to anybody that's got a piece of machinery they haven't used in their operation for the last two years, for gosh sake, sell it. Use that money somewhere else in your operation. Inputs are high, use it to pay for them high inputs because you still need fertilizer. Don't cheat on things that's going to restrict your yield because you're going to get $5.5 to $6 for your product. So sell something that you're not using and use that money to stop some interest, pay down your farm debts or buy inputs and use it in a positive way.
Good advice. What are some of the factors influencing your predictions for the rest of the year?
Well, number one is going to be commodity-driven. Number two is going to be supply chain. Number three is going to be interest rates. Four is probably just overall farmer optimism. COVID, I think people are kind of coming out of that, the shock and awe. They're learning to live with it, so to speak, and so I think and as time goes, as all pandemics, from everything I've read, it takes three or four years for that stuff to self-immune itself, so to speak. So I think that'll bring people back to normal, but if we continue to see... The world trade is grain now. We're watching South America harvest right now and that's affecting the bean prices because they've got a drought and that's running the prices up, and the price of your tractor, the price of your truck, the price of your equipment is so directly related to the commodity prices. It's related to oil, it's related to the value of the U.S. dollar. You just got to watch that stuff because those are your indicators.
Great stuff there from Mark and Michaela. Let's burn a time out and thank our sponsor, the Pluribus Lite from Dawn Equipment. Dawn is bringing today's innovative farmers a new strip-till product from the regenerative ag focused underground agriculture brand. The Pluribus Lite is priced like a strip freshener, but it offers the features and performance to be used in the fall or spring as a primary strip-tiller or strip freshener. Check out the Pluribus Lite at dawnequipment.com. Now, back to our countdown. At number two, Jerry Hatfield, the retired director of the National Laboratory for Ag and The Environment examines the complexities of farming and shares data indicating how strip-till increases soil organic matter. Let's listen in.
I don't know how many briefings I've given on carbon markets, and my one word answer is if you're thinking about getting into it, don't. It's still too much of a wild game and nobody knows what's going on. Let it settle out and then we'll figure out what the rules of the game are. But right now, it's just a little bit unclear as to what's going to happen. The other piece that I decided to do once I retired was that people said, "Well, besides golf," as Andy said, "What are you going to do?" Is really to figure out how to help agriculture achieve its true potential in what it can do. And so over the past couple years I've spent a lot of time looking at this, a lot of time thinking about how we're going to improve agriculture to the point of being able basically to say, "There are things that we do that we shouldn't do, there are some things that we ought to try, and then there may be some things we ought to just abandon."
And you look at all of this and I come to realization about oh, a year ago that when we talk about, and I've built this concept I call genetics by environment by management, G by E by M, basically management is what you oversee, environment's what you overcome because genetics is what you're trying to optimize. And in thinking about that, and more and more I worked on it, I came to realize that there's one piece of that management aspect that we need to start thinking about and that is change, and that becomes the most difficult part. So in the past six months, I've been working with sociologists on how does agriculture adopt change? How does any industry adopt change? And you really begin to think about this. This might be one of the most difficult pieces that we have in thinking about how do we think about changing behaviors, practices, anything else?
And so I'm going to take you through a little bit of this tonight and show you different aspects that are going on because I truly believe that we really do need to think more holistically about our problems. We talk about the carbon market, but in reality, I can make you more money by putting carbon into the soil and what it does for your operation that you'll ever get from a carbon market. The other piece of this is that I do not understand why we don't think about agriculture in an ecological context, and that is the fact that agriculture fits in a very large ecosystem. And we tend to think about agriculture in what we produce, but in reality, agriculture is what we produce not only in that field but what we produce off the field, the whole landscape that's out there.
And so we need to be thinking about how do we do agriculture in a much more of an ecological context and the value of agriculture on our ecosystem? That is often considered very radical thinking, but it's the way we're going to have to think about it because when that question was asked about the sustainability aspects of what companies want, companies are thinking about sustainability from an entirely different perspective in which agriculture is one sliver of their overall piece. Another little moment of truth is we've interviewed a lot of companies about their sustainability goals, and these are all the companies that had sustainability on the piece. We went through and we asked them about their sustainability goals and everything else and they all had a list of what their sustainability goals were. And then I asked them, "Well, what's the path to getting to your sustainability goals?" That is yet to be determined.
Everybody has done sustainability as a major goal out there, but has yet to figure out the path to get there. And that's where I really began to think about how do we begin to look at agriculture from a different perspective? How do we begin to put it into this ecological industrial complex that we think about? And so we really began to look at this overall aspect of agriculture, what we can do, what we can't do is, what our opportunities are. And I do not believe that agriculture is at any better position right now than it has been to be able to really capture in a lot of different pieces and a lot of different ways that are going on. The carbon markets are basically chatter in my opinion. There are a lot of things that, and Jack brought up the idea of nutrient density.
I think the quality of food, food safety issues, the food security issues, all of those other things are out there and we need to be thinking of how do we begin to convince the public that here is the role that agriculture plays and why you depend on. And so there's a lot of different pieces that are along that way. We'll talk a little bit about water quality, tillage, nutrients, weather, all those other things that are going on in that piece of the puzzle. We deal in complex systems. Complex systems require innovative approaches. We've got to move past main effects. Most of the time in agriculture, we deal in main effects. We talk about the effect of nutrients, we talk about the effects of pesticides, we talk about the effects of tillage, we talk about genetics, but we don't really realize that it's a complex set of interactions.
Some of you've heard me say that farming is not rocket science, farming is much more complex. What's it take for rocket science? What's it take to launch a rocket in the air? You need payload, you need the force of gravity and figure out how much thrust do you take overcome that. It's a physics problem, pure and simple. Farming is like solving six or seven simultaneous differential equation, and if you ever took higher level math in there is that most people get really stumbled at two, maybe three differential equations. But farming is complex. We got to look at all these different interactions that are going on, the environmental influence and trade-offs in a lot of this. We're talking about water quality, we talk about soil health, we talk about all these other things. We talk about air quality, all these issues on greenhouse gases and everything else, all these different aspects and all these solutions are going to be based on interactions among soils, weather and management.
Soils is what you have, weather you can't control, management is what you can begin to do in all of this. But what management solution works and gets every year is often what you're [inaudible 00:24:34] So it's not a simple solution in all these different pieces that go on. I'm going to start off with tillage practices and all of this, and I'm getting to the background on this. Intensive tillage is basically your number one robber of soil carbon on the soil. Every time we till, we put carbon back into the atmosphere. You want proof of that? Look how they build a road bed. What's the biggest implement you see when they build a road bed? It's that big 30-inch disc behind the four-wheel-drive tractor and they drive it back and forth and back and forth, basically taking structure out of the soil.
So intensive tillage in there. We take the carbon out there, we take out our water storage capacity, we decrease infiltration and then we decrease the water supply that increases the potential for nitrogen leaching. There is a linkage between all of these aspects that we do and water quality. This is these interactions that we begin to think about all these different ways that are going on. If we think about this, and this is a long-term study that we had because we're actually been in the Walnut Creek watershed longer than we've been in the South Fork watershed. We've been there since 1992 and we have the longest record of carbon fluxes over corn and soybean systems that exist in the world. And so we did an analysis after about 2018, looking at the carbon balance of corn, soybeans and native prairie because we also have the [inaudible 00:26:07] as well with carbon fluxes, so we know what's going on in the native prairie system as well.
But what we see in the bottom line in all those graphs is that our typical corn, soybean system under conventional tillage loses about 1,000 pounds of carbon per acre per year. Corn accrues a little bit, soybeans loses a whole lot, but in the essence, we're always losing carbon. So you farm four years, you've lost 20 tons of carbon. We see that in terms of all these different dynamics that are going on from that standpoint, so we see all this different piece. The good news is we took another field after all of these data and we put it back, and we switched it over from conventional to a no-till cover crop system, and within the first year we went from a negative carbon balance to a positive carbon balance of 300 pounds. And we've continued to change that in the first year. We've continued to add carbon more and more each year. We see these different dynamics that are going on, so we can reverse this very, very quickly because we take tillage out of the system. We see this.
Another piece of this is we have one of these instruments that measures carbon and it's mounted on the AT&T tower that's on Highway 17 and it oversees all of that valley below that. And so after harvest, it's really quite interesting because the carbon dynamics and the carbon in the atmosphere pools out about 400 parts per million until everybody starts tilling, and then the carbon values and that just go off the chart. And the order may be 600 parts per meter in the atmospheric average, and if you back calculate, that means that we've lost about every bit of carbon that was taken up that whole year in all the tillage that we do in the fall. So it's pretty remarkable in terms of the dynamics that are going off. Now, if you're in intensive tillage we can chat, but you're continually destroying your base as you go through this.
Here's the other piece of this. This just happens to be the long-term data from the Sanborn plots and the Morrow plots, the Sanborn plots in Missouri and the Morrow plots in Illinois. They've been in a corn, oats, hay rotation, corn, oats rotation and a corn, soybean rotation from '54 onward and then continuous corn, and this is just data into the 1980s. We're trying to get the Sanborn plot to go through and redo a sampling again. We talked to them about doing that to see where they're at and leveling it off. But you look at that continuous corn, is that from where it was at the beginning until the 1970s, they lost 70% of their [inaudible 00:28:50]. Illinois, the Morrow plots only lost about 60%, so we see these changes that are going on all these different dynamics from that standpoint. This intensive tail, which is reducing that carbon, it leads to more instability in the aggregates of the soil surface.
It basically limits that infiltration of precipitation because the lack of soil aggregates and exposure to direct impact rainfall. So we see all these different dynamics that are going on in these systems as well. Here's just another example of why organic matter pays. This is a field that's out by Dana, and it's a field that we've observed for a long time. We do a lot of remote sensing work. That picture on the left is an image that was taken with one particular index in August. You can see how uniform that field was except for the waterway. That picture on the right is taken three weeks later because we had no rain for three weeks, and you see all that leaf drop that's going on. That's all you're picking up with that image. We see all this disappearance of what's going on. That green area yielded 65 bushels and yellow areas yielded about 25 bushels, so in three weeks we lost 40 bushels of the acre in a lot of parts of that field just because it didn't rain and the soil couldn't supply that water.
So you see these different dynamics going on. We see these in lots of fields across mix. The other piece of this, talking back to this field at Williams that we have, is that we went through in 2016 and we made a very intensive grid sample. We sampled that at 150 foot grids down to four feet across that whole field, and this is just half of the field that's 160 acres. There's another 320 acres, another 160 to the south of it. But after two years, we've basically doubled the microbial biomass because we used [inaudible 00:30:48]. You can see these rapid changes are going on. So the bottom line is soil changes more rapidly than we think. We're talking about changing carbon within that soil. We're talking about changing microbial biomass. We see all these different things. In fact, we've run another experiment lately in which we were changing stable aggregates within 140 days after a cover crop was on there. So we can see all these different things that are going on within our soil and all of this, so we begin to see these changes that are out there.
So here's the current state of our soils across the Midwest, not just Iowa but across the Midwest, is that we've made them very vulnerable to extreme weather. We've made them very vulnerable to variable weather that's out there. We've made them dependent on external nutrient supply because we've taken the organic matter out and we've taken the water out. We've made them dependent on this, and so the functionality of soil is we really want them that soil to hold the plant up and we'll supply everything else. So we really got to think about how we're going to reverse this trend in terms of this. And so basically, we've just made soils with[inaudible 00:32:00]. And with the current price of nitrogen fertilizer, it might gain different attention of how we think about managing our systems as we go forward.
I'm going to take you through a little experiment that we've done, and this is with Wayne Fredericks up in Mitchell County. Wayne and I have been working together for a number of years. That red star is about where he is at in Mitchell County. As Wayne explains it... he and I do a lot of tag team presentations on all of this... Wayne says I'm one county short of the tundra. You think about this and all of these different pieces we're seeing, all of this, it's an area of the state in which no-till, strip-till, cover crops isn't supposed to work because it's too cold and it's too wet. You're really in a tropical area compared to Mitchell County, a little bit. But anyway, 1992 he went over to no-till soybeans because the weather prevented him from getting any tillage done. He'd been a full width tillage up until then. Because it froze up, he couldn't get any of that fall tillage so he went to no-till.
It worked so well, he never looked back. It worked so well, he switched over to the strip-till corn in 2002 based on the success of no-till beans and looking at all the aspects that are going on. There's his strip-till system for corn, and all of this, this before he was putting cover crops into that system. Now all the beans, as you will see, are all planted green and everything. So everything is just going through, we're just planting green in it and then terminating it afterwards. And that's working so well in terms of this aspect, he says, "I wonder why I didn't do that sooner in terms of this process." I'm not going to belabor some of this, but I do want to share some pieces with you because here's three fields in which they've measured the organic matter starting in 1984, going on to 2015. You can see those changes in that organic matter, that 2.3 is now up to 4.3. The 3.3 is up to 6.1.
There's where we started the whole aspects of improving that, and actually, I have all of this organic matter data across all the fields that we've worked at. We've seen that same increase in terms of organic matter content 'cause we reduced the tillage aspects and then we've added the cover crops into it as well. There's been a 2.5% increase, so when I figured out, it's roughly about 900 to 1,000 pounds of carbon going back in every year to get that level of rise of organic matter. The fence rose was sampled in 2016 just for curiosity sakes, to see what the potential was. Fence rose around that area is somewhere between 6 to 9.5%. You can see that one field, six, isn't getting too far away from where it was originally and all of this 'cause we're interested in what the plateau is. That's the graph that's out there and we see that aspect. But that's not what excites me about this data set.
This data set is that we got from Wayne is 10 fields, 18 years of yield monitor data across all those different fields. I do make anything to make another point in terms of where his organic matter's gone to. Here's looking at the available water holing capacity, just a simple graph in there. That lower line is a permanent wilting point, that's the point in which water can no longer be extracted by a plant out of that soil. The upper line is field capacity. Anything above that just drains out, so that spacing between is what the plant has available to it. If we reduce organic matter we reduce water holding capacity, but if we improve it, we increase it. And if we take and improve the organic matter content from 2 to 4% on the silty loam soil, what you see is you've got about five more days of available water during the grain filling period. That five more days in which you don't have stress can pay a lot of advantages, so you see these different aspects that are going on.
So as we've improved the organic matter on his field, we've improved water holding capacity, we've improved the water storage capacity, a number of different things that are out there. The other piece of this is that those stable aggregates that we've created allows that continual infiltration rates. If you've got an unstable aggregate, as soon as a raindrop hits it, it dissolves. That silt moves down through, it clogs up all the pores just like a drainage pipe that doesn't have free flowing in it, so we get infiltration rates that are pretty low. And in fact, across the Midwest it's not unusual to have infiltration rates that are less than one inch per hour, and sometimes half inch per hour. So if you get a half inch infiltration rate and you get a one inch rain in an hour, simple math tells you you lost a half inch, and that's where we see a lot of our runoff and we see a lot of reversion pieces going on. But if you've got a stable aggregate, a stable aggregate withstands that raindrop energy, it doesn't dissolve, it allows that infiltration rate to [inaudible 00:37:29].
Jerry Hatfield, coming in at number two. All right. Now, the moment you've been waiting for, the number one most listened to podcast of 2022, drum roll, it's the Robb Ewoldt interview. The jovial farmer from Davenport, Iowa explains how he boosted his yields with strip-till.
Robb Ewoldt, I farm in eastern Iowa. I always like to joke and say I live three miles north of the Mississippi River, and then that gives everybody pause because they're like, "Well, the river runs north south." Not where I live. I live right where they would call the nose of Iowa. I farm there with my wife and I have two sons, 13 and 15, and we grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa, hay. We have a cow-calf operation. We run about 125 head of cows. When you look at gross dollars, it's not a very big percent of our operation, it's more fun. I also do contract finishing for a local hog producer.
Okay. And how many acres are you-
This last year we're farming 1,400, now we're going up to about 2,000. I have a very good friend of ours from church that's retiring and we were fortunate enough to be able to rent his ground, so it's a nice little growth stage.
And how many of those acres are strip-till?
Anything that we're going to plant corn into is strip-tilled. Typically, where we live we have a lot of variation in our soil types. So we have a lot of Fayette soils that are on the hills and we have some BCD slope hills, so we are open to surface erosion, so we will strip-till those acres in the springtime. Then we have some of what people typically think of Iowa as the rolling black soil, the heavier soils, and those, if they're flat enough then we will do just strictly a P&K strip in the fall. This year's our first year doing that, and it was mainly because of availability of fertilizer and it was also pricing because they couldn't guarantee our spring price. So we decided we better do some of these strips in the fall, so that's when we did that. And the reason we wanted to do some fall strips is we don't have a very fancy strip-till bar.
In fact, the strip till bar that I use comes from my local ag retailer and they let me use it because I must be a really nice guy or something, and not many people want to use it so that's kind of nice, and I like to keep it that way because I'm selfish that way. But the one thing that we're always concerned about is if we can get a rain after our spring strips are put in because we need to pack that dirt down a little bit more. We think we're getting some air pockets in when we go through with our planter 10 days, two weeks later if we haven't gotten a settling rain, we have those air pockets that we're planting into a little bit. So we're not getting the spacings that we want or the germ that we want if that particular seed falls into an air pocket. So we think by doing the fall strips, we'll pack it down a little bit more and get a little bit better seed bed when we come through with the planter in the spring.
Okay. And what type of strip-till bar are you running?
It's a blue one.
It's a blue one.
Well, it's pretty old. It's a Blu-Jet I believe is what it is, and it's just a 16 row and we do all liquid strips. We don't do any dry fertilizer at all, so it's just a 16 row strip till bar that has the tank on back, and it's a parallel linkage that goes between the tractor and the tank. It is about as simple of a unit as you can run, and when it's at zero cost to me, I'm good with that. I guess if I owned one, I would want to put some other things on it.
But it's basically running a knife in the ground and we're putting that liquid in about six inches, maybe five inches, and then it's got the sealers going beside it to heal it up, and that's about all it is really. But most of our strips, we're in a corn bean rotation. We do do a little bit of corn on corn, but that's with our hog manure. So we're planting into the manure, but we're not running an actual strip-till bar on our cornstalks. We're only going through bean stubble, so that makes it pretty easy for us.
Why can you do corn on corn in the hog manure part?
The reason that we're doing corn on corn in the hog manure is where our barns are located, we have 200 acres of our own ground right there and the hog buildings produce 150 acres worth of manure every year. And with our manure management plan and the state of Iowa and the nutrient reduction strategy, we're not allowed to put manure on ground going into beans.
So I have to keep 150 acres of corn right around that location, otherwise the transportation cost of hauling the manure to other farms would just be too much.
So we run corn on corn. We'll run three years of corn and then one year of beans on that. We do it with tankers instead of the umbilical line, mainly because I want to plant on the strips. And so my manure applicators have RTK and then we get the lines from them, so we plant right on top of that manure strip. And all of our manure's put on in the fall and we have a stabilizer that goes with it for nitrogen stabilizer. We don't do anything else to it. We go through with a Blu-Jet subsoiler just on the main paths that the manure tanks make because they pack it down so much. Otherwise, we are strictly relying on the freeze and thaw action of winter to loosen up that ground for us from the compaction from those tanks.
The manure ground, our yields weren't nearly as high as they were where we actually ran the strip-till bar, so I think there's a little bit to the tillage part that's there. And I think some of our manure, the nitrogen wasn't quite available like we thought it was, and that's why we saw some yield reduction on that ground. Now that we've gone to doing some later season nitrogen application and doing some soil sampling later to see what we have for nitrates, we're getting a lot better results now. So we're planting on top of that manure strip and then we're coming back with a little bit of nitrogen in the planter, and then coming back with them again with Y drops to compensate. So now we're starting to see some really positive results. I'm 49 years old, maybe we finally figured some of this stuff out.
How often are you soil sampling?
We're going through and we're grid sampling all of our ground. Every farm's going to get done every four to five years. Our manure management plan ground, that's a four year, and then the rest of the ground we do every five years. The biggest thing that we're doing is every year we are pulling a nitrate level on the soil as a baseline to know where we're at, and then we're doing a lot of modeling through Granular, which is a company spun off from Corteva. So we're doing nitrogen modeling to see what we need to put on.
We're putting on some in the springtime with the strip-till machine, we're putting another shot of N on with our planter, and then we pull some more nitrogen nitrate samples out of the soil when the corn's about knee high or a little bit taller to see what's actually there now, and then we take those and use them for our Y-drop and to figure out how many units are in we want to put on with our Y-drop. So a really wet year, if we lost some nitrogen then we need to up it. Average year, we're coming back normally with about 40 units of nitrogen late, and we've seen very good results with that.
Good. What are some of those results?
The side-by-sides, we can see 5 to 10 bushel to the acre on our side-by-sides. To come up with a harder number than that, I really can't. And the nice thing is that I feel like I can defend myself a little bit better with the public in what we're doing in our operation. We're right outside of an urban area of about 200, 250,000 people that it really are so far removed from agriculture they have no clue, but they know that the Mississippi flows right by their front door and they want to have good water. And so when we pull these samples and we go in and we say, "Hey look, this is what the science told us, so this is what we know the plant needs to finish out, so we're not going to put any more on than we have to."
Where before, 10, 15 years ago, we knew we wanted to reach this yield goal and this is what it was going to take to get there. Well, maybe Mother Nature wouldn't allow you to get there and you wasted a lot of fertilizer. Well, now by doing it in three different steps, we're not wasting the nitrogen. Maybe the nitrogen's still there because it was a dry year from planting season to when we would sidedress, and we don't need to sidedress. Most of the times it's coming back saying, "You need to put a little bit out there," and that's where we see that bigger yield bump. And
What are average yields for you?
We've been doing the no-till strip-till for 10, 12, 15 years depending with some cover crop in there, and every year we are going up. And now this last year we're our whole operation, we averaged 230 on our corn and we averaged 70 on our beans. Our top field for this last year... And this was without any rain in August. All of my neighbors and I, we talked and we said, "What would we have been if we would've got one or two inches in August? Where would our bean yields have been? Where would our corn yields have been?" But our best average farm was 257, 258 on our corn, which I was very, very happy with. Now, that's on our very good ground. On our marginal ground it still comes in at about 220, 225. We were blessed this year, there's no doubt. We had the weather. We could have done a little bit better with some rain, but all in all, it was a great year for growing corn and beans both.
We're starting to see some issues in our area with this tar spot in our corn now. And man, that scares a lot of us because from what we understand, it came in late this year that it didn't affect us on our yield. Because our yields were so good, I don't think it affected us. But that's something that we really have to watch because they said it comes into your field and it can shut a corn plant down in about three to four days, so we have to really be watching our fungicide applications. Now the prices are up and we're profitable, we can spend that extra money on maybe another pass with the fungicide and fight that one off. What we're going to do, I think, is on our last herbicide pass, we're going to mix in a fungicide and then hopefully that gets us to post tassel.
It probably won't quite do it, but we're trying our best. We don't want to do a fifth pass through our corn because when that corn gets tall and we're in the hills, and to be honest, I'm not that great of a driver and I can drive over a lot of tall corn, so we're trying to minimize that. But then we're going to come back and we're going to try to hold off as long as we can post tassel to spray our last round because it seems like that tar spot comes in a little bit later. And so we're trying to get the early coverage up to tassel, and then we might have a week with no protection or a week and a half, and then we're going to come in and spray again. But it's just going to take a lot more scouting on our end to look, and the worst part is by the time you scout and if you do see something, you're too late. That's the downside, but it's the best we can do.
How did you first get into strip-tilling and when did you start that?
We started using our strip-till bar about five years ago. Before that, we were pretty much no-till, corn into corn, and I had liquid on a planter, I had starter, I had nitrogen. And I always joke that I said this was the poor man's strip-till bar, and that was just kind of a nightmare. Our yields were improving, but I talked to other people and there's a better way. And when I found out that they'd let me use the bar for free, no charge, I was like, "I'm in. Let's do it. Let's go." And so we started, and actually two years ago I had the strip-till bar, it was a smaller field, it was just a 34, 35 acre field. I had done half the field, literally half the field, just filled up the tank, started down and the axle snapped on the strip-till bar. And I almost had a full 14, 1,500 gallons of product on and I didn't know what to do.
So I called up my ag retailer and I said, "Hey, this big tire just fell off." I said, "You guys want to come out and take a look? Because I don't know what I'm going to do." And so they came out, and this was the last field of the season, I only had 17 acres to go. And so they just brought out a three-wheel sprayer applicator and it had 15-inch drops to dribble the fertilizer on. So we pumped off the tank, they went out and they did the rest of the field that way. This was on beans stubble. And then we came back and we planted, so half of it was planted in the strips and then the rest was just true no-till. And at that time we did not have nitrogen on that planter. We didn't have any liquid on that planter at that time.
We took it to harvest and there was 35 bushels an acre difference between the strips and the 15-inch dribbled. All had the same fertilizer, it's just where it was placed and what action was done. You're always going to learn something when something bad happens, and so what can we learn from that? And we'd been stripping for four years before that, but I never was patient enough to do a side-by-side true comparison. And when we did this, I was like, "Well, why would I ever do anything different than strip-till? 35 bushel an acre, that's crazy." And so from then on out, we do all of that.
Yeah. I can see why.
Yep. You're a little upset that that last 17 acres didn't get stripped because you gave up bushels, but we learned. We take it and run with it.
And there you go, the top three of 2022. Thanks to the Pluribus Lite from Dawn Equipment for sponsoring the podcast. Thanks to you for listening all year long, we really appreciate it. Looking forward to a great 2023. Merry Christmas, Happy New year. My name's Noah Newman, and until next time, for all things strip-till, head to striptillfarmer.com.