Published on 01/27/2020

#MyStewardshipStory: The Van Horn Family in Eastern Kansas

“Finance drives all decisions but with VRT, you also have the other benefits too, like increased water quality,” says Van Horn.

Two years ago, Gary Van Horn left his job as a secondary education teacher and began farming full-time alongside his father in eastern Kansas. What’s different about Van Horn Land & Cattle LLC, however, isn’t Gary’s background, but rather how they are working to maximize productivity on their land using conservation agronomy.
Gary’s father has sat on their local Soil and Water Conservation District board for years, so the idea of conservation agronomy isn’t new to Gary, it just looks a little different. “For my dad, conservation looks like terraces, grass waterways and contour farming. I’m looking more into new technologies. Let’s try cover crops to keep the soil where it belongs or let’s use variable rate application of nutrients to keep from overapplication or run-off.”
Curbing overapplication of nutrients and reducing run-off is at the top of the list for Gary, especially because this component is most impactful to his bottom line. What he found was that through using cover crops, 100% no-till and variable rate technology (VRT) to seed and apply N, P and K, he was able to reduce both overapplication and run-off.
Gary also found that while profitability was the main goal, conservation of the land was a nice bonus. “On poor ground, nitrogen isn’t going to stay there, it will end up in the water. Finance drives all decisions but with VRT, you also have the other [environmental] benefits too, like increased water quality.”
Out of all the technologies the Van Horn family has implemented, using soil samples to create management zones and feed each acre differently has helped them realize the most benefits. “Parts of the field that you know are going to produce should be treated different than the parts of the field that, no matter what you do, you’re not going to get much out of them,” Gary says. “What’s been great about the variable rate technology isn’t necessarily about reducing variability in a field but lowering my input cost on poor dirt and putting it on better dirt, it’s about seeing a better ROI on each acre.”
Right now, Gary is familiarizing himself with the Truterra Insights Engine and entering his acres so that he can use the technology to track his conservation efforts. Gary hopes that working with Truterra, LLC and agricultural retailer Ottawa Cooperative Association will help him access USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) cost-sharing opportunities to make his on-farm stewardship easier.
Gary is excited to see how technology can help him increase yield and reduce weed pressure in his fields over the next ten years. His enthusiasm for using new technology to approach conservation agronomy is changing the way his dad farms as well: “Outside of the economic and environmental benefits of everything we have been doing, it has been really neat to see how my dad has embraced the new technologies. He’s not exactly a computer guy, but he’s a believer. He has seen the benefits of no-till, the next step is cover crops.”
Interested in learning more about how conservation agronomy can work for you? Contact Lindsey at the Co-op for more information 785-242-5170 ext. 203 or