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Sustainability Helps Farmer’s Profit Withstand The Drought

Growing Soybean Field12

The drought scorched crops across the country last year, but Roger Wenning’s soybeans weathered the heat pretty well.

“Last year, some of my neighbors had single-digit yields,” says Wenning, an Indiana farmer. “But we had about 70 bushels per acre and even better results on a few of our test plots.”

Wenning Farm Inc., comprises 600 acres of soybeans and corn in Greensburg, Ind., though the operation continues to grow as more people see his healthy crops and ask him to help farm their land.

So, what’s his secret to growing plants that thrive while others wither?

Sustainability, he says. Wenning concentrates on soil health. He religiously tests his fields’ nutrient levels and practices no-till on all his acreage. He loves microbes and earthworms and takes pride in cover crops and wildlife buffers. His efforts recently earned him the American Soybean Association’s 2013 National Conservation Legacy Award for the northeast region.

Sustainability is a way of life for Wenning, one that his sister and sons, who farm alongside him, also embrace. It all started nearly five years ago when he became a supervisor on the Indiana Soil & Water Board.

“I felt like it was my duty to help inform people about conservation practices,” says Wenning. “So, I started experimenting with different things like cover crops and buffers to learn about the practices. A lot of people helped me along the way, and I want to return the favor by helping anyone I can.”

A self-described voracious reader, Wenning plows through magazine articles and travels to conferences to learn about the latest sustainability research, which he puts into practice on his own farm in test plots. Never one to shy away from change, he’s been perfecting his cover crop mixture for years, and his most successful combination included five different plant species.

His intense soil sampling also keeps his applications to a minimum. Wenning only applies fertilizer or pesticide when his fields demand it.

“When you apply the chemicals to get rid of the bad stuff, you also get rid of the good stuff, too,” says Wenning. “So I want to be sure I really need to add something to the field before I do something that’s going to take away some of the nutrients.”

His willingness to experiment with new techniques is paying off. In the five years since Wenning made sustainability such a high priority on his operation, he’s seen his farm withstand poor weather conditions like droughts as well as a more common issue in Indiana – excess water.

Too much rain could wash away all of the nutrients Wenning works to keep in his soil. Muddy fields make it hard for crops’ roots to grow and for farming equipment to function properly.

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