Livestock enrich soils

If he had to offer just one reason why his farming system is so resilient, Rosmann would say it's his healthy soils. He beds his livestock in oat, rye and barley straw — his hogs are treated to the Swedish deep-bedding system of 2-foot-thick straw — then composts the straw with their manure. He feeds his soils every cubic inch of that compost and tills his fields very minimally. For example, he plants his corn and soybeans into ridges and turns those fields under only after the rotation's third year.

"I think our soil biology is balanced and that the bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms really help us out," he says. "They must be helping our productivity and breaking our disease and insect cycles."

(¿'The Roda le Institute* 200? from www newfarrn orq

(¿'The Roda le Institute* 200? from www newfarrn orq

Ron (left) and David Rosmann use long rotations and minimum tillage to grow healthy crops, resulting in minimal pest problems.

Indeed, the Rosmanns have only used one insecticide in their corn and soybeans in the past 20 years — Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) against corn borers — but the insects didn't affect yields that year anyway and the Rosmanns haven't used the product since. "We try to keep our input costs down. As long as our yields are not being compromised, why purchase inputs?" he asks.

Rosmann controls the aphids and leafhoppers in his alfalfa by harvesting earlier when possible. That decreases production, but he can "put up with it." He also plants orchard grass with alfalfa, which discourages some pests.

Generous populations of lacewings and ladybugs indicate that the Rosmanns' commitment to biodiversity is keeping predators in balance with prey.

Besides soil health, the Rosmanns control crop diseases with resistant varieties. They shop aggressively for disease resistance, but they're becoming discouraged. No resistance is currently available to prevent the beetle-transmitted seed staining that sometimes sends their soybeans to feed markets rather than to Japanese tofu buyers. "There's very little public plant breeding going on right now," says Rosmann. "The interest is in biotechnology and that's where the dollars are going, sad to say."

His ridge-tilled fields are much cleaner than conventionally tilled fields, with only one-seventh to one-tenth as many weeds. Early tillage, rotary hoeing after planting and cultivation destroy most of the weeds in Rosmann's other fields. The rest of his weeds he simply lives with, peaceably and profitably.

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