Integrated System for Sustainability of High Value Field Crops
The Innovative Farmers of Huron County (IF) were organized in early 1994 to develop alternative cropping systems that reduce erosion, improve soil quality, and reduce investment while maintaining a family farm’s income. Initially there were 47 members, and the membership has grown to 81 in 1996. Some members are from nearby counties, and three other IF groups have been formed following the Huron County model. Members are divided into eight groups to plan, design and evaluate tillage systems (fall plow, fall chisel, trans-till and zone-till) being used to produce a corn/dry bean/sugar beet rotation. Two 40-acre parcels have been rented by the IF group where randomized and replicated half-acre plots are being used to develop these systems. Yields generated in 1994 exhibit a large gap between traditional fall plow and chisel and the trans-till and zone-till systems. The members at the winter meetings became more aggressive, brushed aside some of the existing myths, and have created systems that are highly competitive in 1995 and 1996. Because of the adjustments made in the systems, the yield gap has been closed with the two strip-tills out-yielding the traditional systems in some cases.
During the past two years, the IF group met several times with guest speakers including Ray Rawson, Rawson Zone-Till System developer; John Anibel, a Michigan farmer involved in site-specific agriculture; and farmers from Scandinavia. The World Wildlife Fund sponsored the group from Scandinavia. A representative of the IF group was invited to participate in a press conference on Capitol Hill that dealt with the release of a report on the "State of Nation’s Coast" by the Coast Alliance. In addition, the annual Innovative Farmers tours have resulted in over 200 farmers, government agency and environmental group representatives visiting the IF plots in each of the last two years. The group has been featured in a number of publications.
Changes are starting to occur on individual farms, with this program providing the impetus. The Innovative Farmers project is also unique in that 52 agribusinesses, commodity groups, government agencies and lending institutions have provided equipment, supplies and financial support. Members are taking ideas generated at IF sites and utilizing them on-farm. Members are building their own zone-till planters, planting crops in twin 7-inch rows and interseeding between rows, starting to use zone-till equipment on their own farms and adapting zone-till to narrow row (22 inch) production. A rural sociologist identified 16 reasons farmers can’t or won’t adopt conservation tillage, and the Innovative Farmers project is geared to address those issues. 1996 Annual Report