I’m a chronic malcontent, especially when it comes to our farm. If something becomes status quo, if it becomes something that everybody else is doing and we are not questioning it anymore, I start to look at it and pick at it and change it. This can sometimes cause my dad, Gary, a lot of heartburn, but every January, February and March, I start to twitch a little bit and then the crazy happens.
If you’re looking into strip-till, you’re not into farming easy. It took me 8 years to convince my dad we should strip-till all of our acres. I was strip-tilling about 2,000 acres, and he was farming about 2,000 acres using conventional tillage.
I’m a third-generation farmer from Lake Mills, Iowa, and have been farming since 2001. We started strip-tilling in 2011, and I added cover crops for the first time in 2013. We have a 65/35 corn and soybean rotation. We are committed to planting cover crops on every acre. With all the things we can do for the land and the industry and the environment, we’re proud of that.
I learned a lot about what cover crops can do for soil. That really made the adoption curve much quicker on our farm, after seeing some of the amazing stuff that could happen.
In northern Iowa, we have a very short growing season. We can’t depend on there not being snow and a frost in November, and we can’t depend on spring coming in April every year, so that makes it hard to get cover crops started.
“If you’re looking into strip-till, you’re not into farming easy. It took me 8 years to convince my dad we should strip-till all of our acres…” – Ben Pederson
We are still trying to figure out cover crops. We just have such a short amount of time to get our work done, so everything has to be super efficient. We did build a third bin into the new strip-tiller, as well as 2 dry fertilizer bins where we can be seeding cover crops either in the row, outside the row or across the whole toolbar, so we don’t have to make a dedicated pass.
One of the challenges we faced was moving too much soil off the top of the fall strip. We have always freshened our strips in the spring and it’s a good opportunity to put nitrogen on, since we’ve got to make that pass anyway.
We run implement steering, which is crucial if you have any rolling ground. That has been a big part of our success with the strip-till system. Implement steering helps us stay on that strip all the time. We do controlled traffic, so everything is on 60-foot or 120-foot spacings.
Complicating things is my jam, especially on a planter. Part of the challenge is that so many of the good seed hybrids work everywhere. They are kind of like one-size-fits-all hybrids, so we have been having trouble nailing that down.