When your family has farmed for five generations, you’ve seen a lot of things come and go, like the era when good farmers plowed everything black. By the 1980s, however, the Ehlers family tried ridge-till.
“Dad adopted ridge-till to help save on costs during the (1980s) farm crisis,” said Kris Ehlers, 46, who farms with his brother, Mike, and their families near Marathon.
Ridge-till helped save the soil, too, a lesson that wasn’t lost on the Ehlers’ father, Ken. “When Dad started farming full-time in the 1970s, he noticed there were some odd holes in his field southwest of Marathon,” said Kris Ehlers, who raises corn, soybeans and hogs in Buena Vista County. “He found out that’s where the tile intakes were. The plowed soil had washed and buried the intakes.”
While ridge-till helped keep more soil in place, the gusty winds of northwest Iowa created other erosion challenges. “One windy spring day in 2004, the enclosed porch in our old farmhouse was covered in about a quarter of an inch of dirt,” said Mike Ehlers, 45. “A couple of weeks later, it happened again.”
As the Ehlers brothers looked for solutions, they tried low-disturbance manure application, which injects manure several inches under the soil surface. This conservation practice, along with the Ehlers’ use of strip-tillage, means that less than one-third of the soil is disturbed.
Find trusted partners. The Ehlers live next to the North Raccoon River, which flows to Des Moines and beyond. They’ve partnered with Iowa Soybean Association researchers on tile-water monitoring since 2016.
Share the knowledge. The Ehlers host conservation field days to give others a first-hand look at their various conservation practices. Their low-disturbance manure application field day in 2015 attracted nearly 100 participants, who learned how new technologies can help meet the water quality goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
Promote conservation to landlords. The Ehlers family works closely with conservation-minded landlords.