What started as a more cost-effective forage source for the family’s cattle has become a major conservation focus for the Buck family near Rhodes. Marshall County Farm Bureau member Jeremy Buck says cattle and conservation continue to work well together on his farm, decades after his grandpa started no-tilling and contouring the crops.

“Grandpa got really big into it. He thought it was really good for the soil,” Buck said.

His dad continued the family’s conservation focus, something Buck says passed on through to him.

“We’ve been chopping rye for cows for 15 years,” Buck said. “We started planting maybe 20 acres of cereal rye and chopped it. We saw really good results on those fields; the soybeans on that rye ground outyields other beans, so that makes it enticing,” he said.

As the family grew their cow herd, they expanded acres of rye, too.

About one-third of his acres are covered with rye cover crops, which he drills in.

The rye works well with his cattle operation, he said.

“We chop some ryelage for feed and graze some of it, too. I think it brings up the organic matter in the soil, cuts down on weed pressure, and it’s awfully cheap forage, too,” he said.

The family started no-tilling and contouring decades ago, practices which continue today on the Buck farm.

Buck says cover crops incorporated with their no-till system allows the soil to capture and hold onto the nutrients.

“Cows make no-till work really well. They help break down the stalks when they graze,” Buck said. “Our goal is that the roots capture nutrients and it holds it in the soil and keeps it from running off.”

The no-till system saves money, too, because it saves passes across the field doing tillage.

Buck said he’s still trying to get the hang of contouring his corn acres.

“When you plant, you try and do everything so it’s kind of level. So we plant around a hill with just a little bit of a slope, and it slows all that water down so it can’t just run down the rows of corn,” he said. “They make a big difference when you get a big rain.”

Buck says conservation isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach on his farm. He says different types of ground mean different approaches to conservation.

“I’ve got a wide range of ground. I’ve got some nice, pretty flat 92 CSR (corn suitability rating) beautiful ground, and then we’ve got some terrible, hilly, really rough ground, too. It varies quite a bit,” he said.

Buck admits there’s a learning curve to conservation, and it may take time to see the results. “The longer you do it, the better the results. It takes a few years … to show the benefits of it,” he said.

More cover crops in area

However, he’s happy to see more farmers trying various conservation practices in his area. “I’m seeing more cover crops in our area — lots of rye and even a field of oats. A lot of it’s for forage, and a lot of it’s for conservation,” he said.

Buck says farmers are using cover crops to capture more nutrients from manure and to hold the soil. Cost-share opportunities have also helped.

Cost-share dollars helped Buck get started. Now, he’s custom drilled cover crops for other farmers and plans to continue experimenting with other cover crops, like turnips and oats.

“From a conservation standpoint, cover crops are super important,” Buck said. “I think if you learn how to manage them right they can increase your yields and soil health, and that’s a big deal.”

He says he hopes to continue the family’s legacy in leaving the farm better than when he got it.

“It’s a lot better deal if you can leave your farms a lot better than when you got them.”