Nebraska Farmer Learns New Tricks With Cover Cropping

Nebraska farmer Bill Volkmer describes himself as an “old farmer.” But this old farmer is willing to learn some new tricks. He started planting cover crops in 2011. Cover-cropping — the practice of keeping fields covered between cash-crops — leads to a healthier, more bio-diverse soil and better crop productivity, which directly helps the bottom line. By selecting specific plants, from amongst the broadleafs, the grasses and the legumes, producers can improve their soils. By keeping soil covered, there’s less evaporation, and when it’s windy, there’s less loss of topsoil.

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Landowner Enrolls Lagoon in Wetlands Reserve Easement

Dave Hilfterty grows dryland winter wheat and irrigated corn in Perkins County, Nebraska. Dave had a challenge that was perfect for a Wetlands Reserve Easement. Amongst his five irrigation circles there’s a lagoon, which he got tired of trying to farm through.

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Wetlands Reserve Easement in Kansas

McPherson County landowner Dale Schmidt bought ground he intended to farm, but often it was too wet to plant or to harvest. He’s pleased he enrolled the land as a perpetual wetland easement. Schmidt and his NRCS District Conservationist Blake McLemore discuss the improvements made to the parcel.

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Converting to Dryland Farming

Southwest Kansas farmer Steve Arnold had been a big irrigator with ten wells, numerous pivot irrigation systems and four-wheel-drive tractors. Then, his wells ran dry. The Ogallala Aquifer failed him. Arnold converted to dryland farming, adopted precision farming equipment and practices, and is using no-till and cover cropping.

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No-till and Cover Crops Help Rainwater Basins

South-central Nebraska producer John Kinley has a three-acre rainwater basin in a crop field. He uses progressive practices such as no-till production and cover cropping. Even though he farms through his wetland, no-till leaves the rainwater basin with cover year-round, and it now attracts ducks and geese as they migrate.

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Controlling Invasives in Central Nebraska

Phragmites is a growing problem in the waterways and riparian areas of Nebraska, while Russian olive and eastern redcedar are invading uplands. These shrubs thrive in poor soil, and are darned hard to kill. They also re-sprout vigorously after cutting or burning. Controlling these invasives typically involves cutting, followed immediately by burning or an application of herbicide.

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Program Allows Farming While Protecting Wetland

Jerry Stevens enrolled in the Rainwater-Basin Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program, which restores and protects wetlands in fields under production by allowing center pivots to cross the rainwater basins. It’s win-win. The program protects a wetland, and allows the producer to farm the circle around it.

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Weaver Ranch Restores Habitat

Jim Weaver

The sprawling Weaver Ranch near Causey, New Mexico, is located in important Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat. Ranch manager Willard Heck talks about removing 400-500 acres of mesquite that had encroached onto prairie land, fragmenting the bird’s habitat. A three-year drought has impeded the bird from thriving, but Heck thinks the chicken’s population is increasing on the ranch.

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Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative at Work

Land manager Tom Turner manages grazing land in west-central Kansas in the sandhills south of Kinsley. Owing to sandy soil composition the grassland is fragile. Turner got the land enrolled in the NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative and used cost-share money to improve cross-fencing and a livestock watering system. That eased the process of rotational grazing, one of the components of a managed grazing plan to protect the fragile landscape while improving Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat.

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Nebraska Landowner Conserves Rainwater Basin

Laurel Badura, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, found incentive funding allowing ag producer Bart Jacobson to renovate and conserve a rainwater basin on grassland that’s grazed by cattle and sheep under aggressive management. Jacobson is pleased with the results and credits Badura with arranging funding and managing the details of the partnerships, which drove the project forward.

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