Published on 03/16/2020
Saving Time and Soil Health: A Heartland Co-op grower’s journey to becoming 100% no-till
In 1969, Doug Honeck came back to his family’s farm full-time after attending Iowa State University. When his father started thinking about retirement 15 years later, Doug and his wife Eileen found themselves looking for new ways to boost their operation’s efficiency. There was no lack of diversity on their farm as they raised cattle, hogs, lambs, corn and soybeans. But there was also a struggle to find enough time each day to get the work done.
“In those years, my family played a significant role in helping make the farm successful. From the time we moved to the farm, everyone in the family had a role in keeping the operation going. And everyone was always willing to help - from working in the farrowing house, helping with the lambs, moving the cattle or walking the bean fields.”
Despite all the help, fieldwork was still a challenge. One solution Doug found was to minimize the tillage, which then led to a complete switch to no-till in 1985. While in years prior weed pressure was a barrier to the adoption of no-till, the increased quality of herbicides in the 80s, made no-till possible. “We made the switch from conventional tillage to no-till because I was suddenly the only person that was going to have to do all of the planting and harvesting and I had to find a way to make it work,” Doug says. But what started out as a time-saver, turned into something much bigger. “What I realized later,” he added, “Was that there are a lot of soil health components that kind of came about through the back door as an added benefit of no-till.”
These benefits started off small - like seeing an increase in the earthworm population. Then, there were even bigger differences- soil that was less compacted, a reduction in erosion on lighter ground, and an increase in soil microbial activity.
The way no-till provided both economic and environmental benefits caught Doug’s attention, and he started to seek out other ways he could see these same impacts. Today, one of the ways he finds this balance is through the use of the Truterra Insights Engine. The Truterra Insights Engine is an ag tech tool available to Heartland Co-op’s customers that, after entering data on fields and farming practices, can simulate, in real-time, the positive impact a management change - such as using minimal tillage or planting cover crops - can have on factors like yield, greenhouse gas emissions and erosion.
“I was amazed at how the Truterra Insights Engine could show me how our practices, like the no-till, were working to sequester carbon and how it gave me numbers on how much greenhouse gas emissions were being saved from going into the atmosphere,” he recalled, “Things like this aren’t the reason I started with no-till, but they are definitely the selling point today.”
Looking across all management practices and technologies he has utilized in the last 50 years, however, Doug says that the most important thing is that they have ultimately allowed him to continue to do what matters: the farm. “Environmental responsibility, conservation, sustainability - at the end of the day it all just means being able to farm from one year to the next. That’s the bottom line. I am just trying to farm what we have in the most profitable way possible and using conservation agronomy in ways such as no-till has done that.”
For more information on the Truterra Insights Engine what Heartland’s partnership with Truterra, LLC (formerly Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN) can offer you, contact Thomas Fawcett at firstname.lastname@example.org