Bryan Biegler had been thinking about switching to strip-tiling his corn and soybean fields for almost 10 years before he finally tried it.
“I got sick of seeing my soil wash away during big, heavy rains,” said the third-generation farmer from Lake Wilson in southwestern Minnesota.
Today, Biegler notices the difference strip-tilling has made. There are still a few spots that get washed out during heavy rains (that’s inevitable), but more of his soil and fertilizer stays on his fields and out of nearby ditches and waterways.
“It’s challenging to try and find things that work,” Biegler said. “But so far I’ve had success.”
In addition to strip-tilling, which is a method of conservation tillage that disturbs only the portion of the soil that contains the seed row, Biegler also practices vertical tillage in some areas. Vertical tillage only sightly disturbs the soil and keeps much of the corn residue on the field to protect soil fertility and prevent erosion.
Biegler also has had recent success with cover crops, especially planting rye into corn. A cover crop is just what it sounds like: it “covers” a field after the corn is harvested, helping keep the soil in place and healthy for the next growing season.
“We’re finding our spot with cover crops,” Biegler said. “We’re experimenting with equipment more and seeing what else will work.”
Finally, Biegler has buffer strips around a creek on his property and split applies his fertilizer. The buffers help prevent what soil and other nutrients that do leave his fields from entering the creek and
nearby waterways. Split-applying fertilizer helps Biegler only give his crops the amount they need, making his farm more efficient and protecting nearby water sources.
That’s a lot of conservation efforts happening on the Biegler farm. But the reality is, many Minnesota corn farmers employ some or all of the same practices as Biegler. You don’t hear farmers talk much about buffers or conservation tillage techniques, because to them, it’s just an everyday part of farming.
“There are many benefits that we might not even fully understand yet,” Biegler said.
Just like Biegler’s father — who still helps on the farm when he can — worked to protect the area’s land, soil and water resources, by trying and using many of today’s common, on-farm conservation practices, Biegler is doing the same for his children.
“We feed what we grow to our kids with no concerns,” Biegler said. “We care for our children very much and work hard to preserve all of this for them.”