Abundant small fields foster diverse practices

Rosmann Family Farms has several advantages many other farms don't: although they used pesticides for about 10 years during the 1960s and 1970s, the family never abandoned its mixed crop-livestock approach nor its generous crop rotations. In addition, the Rosmanns' 600-plus acres give them exceptional flexibility — and protection. "We have such a diversity of fields in different locations that we generally don't have problems in all of our fields at once — just a portion of a field."

The Rosmanns' practices are as diverse as their crops. They rotate some of their crop fields into grass-legume pastures, especially if those fields are building up unacceptable levels of weeds. They use cover crops in the corn they plant for silage but not in other corn fields. They rotate their grazing as well as their crops, thereby improving their pasture productivity and pest control. To provide feed for their cattle from mid-September until late fall, when corn stalks become available, they also follow barley and oats with turnips, rye and hairy vetch in mid-July.

The Rosmanns have been evaluating their individual practices with on-farm research trials for 15 years. They know what contributes to yield improvements and what doesn't but they haven't precisely pinpointed cause and effect — or whether interactions, rather than discrete practices, produce crop and soil benefits.

"There's no doubt, absolutely no doubt, that our approach is better for the environment and for us," Rosmann says. "But we just plain need research — on-farm systems research — to answer questions on farms like ours."

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