No-till, grass strips all part of a diversified strategy


Even though he isn?t a hunter, Joel Suderman wanted to do something to increase the quail population, which is down to about one-fourth of what it was 20 to 25 years ago. Suderman placed about 14 acres of grass ?quail buffers? along various hedge rows.

Joel Suderman was an early convert in Marion County to no-till farming practices as a way to save his soil, and he remains an advocate for it.

But the project that led to his being named the winner of the very first Banker Award for protecting water quality in Marion County was really for the birds.

Quail, that is.

?Several years ago they started a CRP program called CP33,? he said. ?It?s a quail buffer, actually. You put it around the perimeter of certain fields.?

Suderman said he had read that the quail population in Kansas was down to about one-fourth of what it was 20 to 25 years ago. Even though he isn?t a hunter, he said he wanted to do something to bring back the game bird.

?I have about 14 acres of CRP along various hedge rows,? he said. ?In a dry year, you couldn?t raise a lot (of grain) along a hedge row anyhow. So I planted short, native grass and forbes (wildflowers) to specifically feed the quail and try to build the quail population again.?

He said the new program gave him an economic incentive by paying him for land that half the years wouldn?t produce a lot of grain anyway.

The grass buffer areas are only the latest in a variety of other conservation practices Suderman has planted on the ground he farms around the Aulne area.

He has constructed and maintained the conservation practices on his land with equipment he owns in partnership with his brother Rod. Joel has built 8.42 acres of waterways, 28,253 feet of terraces and is in the process of finishing 2,700 feet of diversion terraces.

But the area Suderman feels he has made the most advance in recent years has been no-till farming.

?When I think about conservation, I think a lot about no-till, which is kind of the big thing now for some farmers,? he said.

?I kind of got started in that in 1993 already. The fall harvest of 1992 was so wet, that we finished our milo harvest in March of 1993. It was so wet I couldn?t get the ground ready to plant milo then the following spring.

?So I did some no-till that year, but ended up working the ground anyhow for the succeeding crop year,? he said.

Three years later he decided to take the plunge in a big way?out of necessity and frustration.

?In March 1996 the wind blew, and I didn?t have a very good stand of wheat,? Suderman said. ?I remember one field especially where the road ditch was just level-full of dirt that blew off my field.

?I figured something had to change with that, so that?s when I started looking into no-till,? he said. ?I think in about 1999 I got into full-time, 100 percent no-till.?

Back in 1985, when the farm bill that year first made it mandatory for producers to implement soil conservation practices on land classified as ?high erodible,? Suderman said he was far less eager to jump in?and so were many fellow producers.

?They kind of drug us kicking and screaming to make grass waterways and terraces,? he said. ?I didn?t really appreciate having to do that, but I?m glad now that we did because I think it saved a lot of soil through the years.

?No-till ties into that very well,? he added, ?as far as saving soil and conserving moisture in the ground to grow the crops.?

Suderman is a strong proponent for no-till practices these days.

?For one thing it does conserve your soil,? he said. ?In fact, if done right, it builds up your soil. That?s one thing I?m continually learning?how to build the soil structure and add organic material to the soil.

?That?s probably the big thing.?

But not the only factor.

?One of the side benefits that kind of appealed to me at first was that it didn?t take nearly as much time to do your field work,? Suderman said. ?That?s really kind of a minor thing.

?But it?s kind of an odd thing when you see farmers pulling discs and plows?whatever?in springtime, especially. You feel like, ?I ought to be doing something,? but there?s nothing to do.?

Suderman does put in some hours spraying his no-till fields for weeds.

?I?ll cover my ground at least once a year, depending on what crop it is,? he said, adding: ?I don?t how much of a favor we?re doing ourselves by putting that much chemical on, even though some of those chemicals are not as harsh as others.?

Like most other farmers who have converted to no-till, Suderman has attended numerous classes and events to help him understand how the process works.

?Knowing how to get your ground to produce in no-till?there?s a learning curve to that,? he said.

One of the things he?s learned is that it takes time?as much as 20 years?for a producer to reap the full economic benefits from the conversion to no-till.

?I?m 51 years old now,? he said. ?That?s what I hope, that whoever takes over my farm someday will farm the way I?ve been farming it. I?d hate to see it get plowed up after I?ve gone to all this work to get it into no-till.?

Suderman sees additional benefits to no-till benefits.

?Global warming-?you can talk all day about that, pro or con,? he said. ?Global warming is happening, I?m convinced of that. But whether man is causing that or not, that?s up for debate in my books.

?But,? he added, ?I?m doing my part to help combat that by storing carbon in the soil and maybe not using as much fossil fuel in my operation. It just kind kind of makes you feel good when you see the soil stay there after a big rain.?

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