Tag Archives: Cameron Mills

Non GMO Seed and Cover Crop Management

Cameron Mills, a grower from Walton, Indiana, spoke a couple months ago at the annual Oregon Seed League conference. Among his surprising messages:

  • Moving away from GMO seed is a sound economic move
  • Glyphosate is under threat from consumers and we’ll have to adapt – but it certainly won’t put an end to use of cover crops
  • Big Ag is moving in the direction that consumers demand – “regenerative” ag
  • Introducing beef into the Midwest mix is very profitable

These days, Mills said, consumers are driving change in ag. “They want to know where products are produced, how healthy they are, and how safe,” he said. And consumers around the world are speaking ever louder that they’ve had enough of GMO.

Mills said that after 23 years of pushing GMO, the tide is moving against it. So instead of fighting the tide, Mills has grabbed onto Non-GMO full time, in a hurry. And, he made a convincing argument that Non GMO is a darn sight less costly than going with the “Magical Seeds.” See below.

He said that with the per/acre savings, there’s a better Return on Investment with Non-GMO. So what difference does it make if the GMO seed outproduces the Non-GMO seed by a few bushels/acre? By the way, he said “magical seed” doesn’t always perform to it’s promise anyway. His farm of almost 4000 acres – corn, soybeans, triticale, wheat and beef cattle – is 100 percent Non-GMO and he’s been in continuous cover crop since 2006.

In terms of cover crop choices, Mills says he likes annual ryegrass a lot, and it has helped him reduce damage on his fields in spring when he wants to get out and start planting, even when it’s still a bit wet.

In the next blog, we’ll talk about other topics he discussed, including how to apply cover crops, how to manage and how to learn to adapt quickly with Plan B, C, and D. Farming on the fly? Not exactly, but flexibility is important…and experience helps grow confidence in being flexible.

Return on Investment from Cover Crops – 266 % – say Indiana Farmers

No-Till Farmer magazine just published a great article that quantifies the benefits of cover cropping. In this case “quantifying” means translating more than a decade of field data into dollars saved.

The article (click here) looks at data collected by two Indiana family farmers as well as the NRCS. The pair presented the data at this year’s Iowa Cover Crops Conference. Look at the following charts. The first contains the costs for cover crops – seed and planting: about $26/ac.

The second chart looks at the benefits: fertilizer saved, corn yield increase, soybean yield increase (less disease), drought tolerance (a 10 year average), increase in organic matter and erosion reduction. Ken Rulon, one of the farmers, said that the “return on investment” has been 266 percent, with a net benefit/acre planted at $69.17. Even if he had gotten only half the benefits, it would still be profitable, he said.

Annual Ryegrass: Part of New Adaptive Management Strategy

ARG in Quebec - November photoAdaptive management. Fancy title, basically meaning “be on top of developing situations in your fields and be  ready for a Plan B”.

Many farmers already fit that definition to a TEE. When it comes to growing successful cover crops, however, many have had to up their  game.

Cameron Mills, for example, was ready to seed his annual ryegrass cover crop seed in the fall, with a high-clearance sprayer adapted to plant cover crops. The late harvest, complicated by a wet fall, foiled his Plan A. His Plan B was a phone call to a nearby pilot to fly on the annual ryegrass seed.

Mills farms in Walton, IN, and has been a consistent cover cropper since 2005. His experience has put him on the front edge of cover crop field research. For example, he has studied the impact of annual ryegrass on extra nitrogen in the field. Accordingly, he’s reduced his input of N by 30 lb/ac and it hasn’t impacted yield. The following is from an article in Western Farmer Stockman

“In 2012, Mills layered in 170 lbs. of N per acre. Thanks in large part to his healthy no-till/cover-crop soil, he harvested a 165 bushel corn crop despite the severe drought.”

He said he believes he can trim that further, and Dan Towery agrees. Towery, an independent cover crop advisor and immediate past president of SWCS, said (in the same article) that, “after five years of continuous use of cover crops, farmers can typically cut N rates by an average of 50 lbs per acre for the crop year.” The savings will easily cover the cost of cover crop planting, he added.

The experience of others certainly helps those newer to cover cropping, and then having your own experience with cover crops will build confidence towards having your own Adaptive Management Strategy.

As Towery advises with adaptive management, “go slow and pay attention.”

Annual Ryegrass Features in Summer Cover Crop Activities

The Indiana-based Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative was awarded $750,000 (Conservation Innovation Grant) to further quantify the value of cover crops – including annual ryegrass – in the Midwest over the next 3 years. The money has already been used to hire a project director (Lisa Holscher) and line out  highly-visible projects to help explain and educate regional farmers.

The project will include 12 farms in Indiana, each of whom is contributing to the project’s budget. Each farmer chosen already has shown experience with on-farm re search, conservation measures, hosting field days and making public presentations. Each will receive mentoring and technical advice as part of their investment. Several those chosen are long-term cover crop innovators (Dan DeSutter, Jamie Scott, Cameron Mills) and they’ll become part of the advisory team for teaching.

According to a news release on the project: The majority of the sites compare no-till/strip-till only to no-till/strip-till with cover crops. Other comparisons include: strip-till with cover crops vs. no-till with cover crops; reduced tillage with cover crops vs strip-till with cover crops; and no-till with single-species cover crop vs. no-till with a cover crop mix. More specifically, soil fertility, soil moisture, soil nitrate, soil temperature, cover crop biomass, and some of the new soil health tests will be done. Test results will be compiled and analyzed by Purdue University.

Partnering with CCIS in the project: Indiana Corn Growers Association, Indiana Soybean Alliance, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Indiana State Department of Agriculture, and the Purdue Cooperative Extension.

Annual Ryegrass and Crimson Clover Boost Crop Production and Cut Input Costs

Modern technology, Careful Management and Cover Crops are Key

Cover crops continue to gain in popularity, although statistics would say that most Midwest farmers are still engaged in conventional tillage practices. National and regional conferences and field day demonstrations are changing that dynamic quickly.

Indiana-based Cameron Mills is among the early converts, having converted to no-till and cover crops years ago. While annual ryegrass has been a standard cover crop in his corn/soybean rotation, he’s now trying cover crop mixes and likes what he sees from mixing annual ryegrass with crimson clover.

Modern navigational aids on equipment is making Cameron’s work more precise and thus more efficient. He tests his soil regularly and knows which areas are high producers and which are not. And with GPS equipment engaged, he can fertilize based on the needs. “We’re gaining maximum profits out of the nutrients we’re putting on,” he said.

Cameron has an all-steer fertilizer cart behind his corn planter. While planting corn, he lays down a band of nitrogen (28% by weight), in a furrow 2 inches from the seed drop and 2 inches deep (see diagram below). His initial rate of application is 30lb of nitrogen/acre. Cameron comes back later with a side-dress of nitrogen 28.

Information from soil tests and crop production also allow him to increase or reduce inputs. In recent years, he said he’s been able to reduce application of phosphorus and potassium (P & K) largely because of his use of cover crops. “I’ve also begun to lower the rate of nitrogen, too, but I’m being very careful about how much and where. Farmers are increasingly using labs in the Midwest to test corn stalks for residual nutrients, principally nitrogen. Comparing that data with input data allows farmers to adjust inputs accordingly.

“I’m more able to build up the fertility in low production areas and saving by reduce fertilizer in areas that don’t give you any added response,” he continued.

When rotating soybeans and corn, Cameron said he’s seen a five bushel increase in soybean yield after having annual ryegrass as his cover crop. “Annual ryegrass seems to break the disease cycle of the soybean cyst nematode,” he added.

Last year, he began trying a mix of cover crops. “I’m not talking eight or 10 or 12 different cover crops; rather, I’ve mixed annual ryegrass and clover and they seem to do very well together.” For one thing, clover is a nitrogen provider and annual ryegrass is able to store a lot of nitrogen. In the spring, weeks after the cover crop has been sprayed out, the annual ryegrass residue is decaying and releases nitrogen just as the corn plant is needing a boost. “Cover crops are a win-win proposition in that respect,” Cameron said.