Lance Lillibridge is a first-generation farmer in Benton County. He employs several conservation practices on the land he owns, including strip-till and cover crops, to protect the soil from erosion and to build organic matter. His method of farming captured the attention of landowners.
Having the courage to try something different
“A tenant with land next to mine started asking me questions about strip-till, since there’s not a lot of that going on in this part of the state,” said Lillibridge. “When this farmer made the decision to cut back on the amount of land he rented, he asked if I would be interested in this particular farm. When I showed interest, he talked to the landowner.”
The landowner called and said his tenant was “bound and determined” the farm be rented to Lillibridge. “We discussed my farming system. I explained my dedication to adding conservation practices like strip-till to protect the soil from erosion while maintaining an upward yield curve,” he said. “If you can protect the soil from erosion, it gets landowners’ attention.”
Since this initial experience, other landowners have taken note of Lillibridge’s care of the soil. “I have learned that if you have the courage to try something new, people will take notice,” he said. “I have been able to make this system work for my acres and that has helped me rent more ground.”
Explaining benefits to landowners
When discussing conservation practices with landowners, Lillibridge talks about the benefits he has seen on the land he personally owns. “I talk about the soil health benefits I have observed on my farm, as well as the economic benefits,” he said. “I’m protecting the soil and our crops keep getting better.”
Grid soil testing done every three to five years, depending on the farm, reveals an increase in organic matter and an increase in soil fertility. That has allowed Lillibridge to reduce the amount of fertilizer he applies to the land. “When I share this information with landowners, they are pretty happy.”
Lillibridge added cover crops to his farming operation a few years ago. The aerial application has worked well and provides another feed source for his cattle. “This also caught the attention of farmers in the area,” he said. “People notice when you’re doing something different. This has a lot to do with why we’ve been able to acquire more ground.”
Return on investment
When adding cover crops on rented land, Lillibridge discusses the benefits he has noticed on his land and explains there are cost-share programs to get started. “It’s hard to put a value on conservation practices, whether it’s using cover crops or switching tillage systems,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned is that people are watching me and that has enabled me to grow my operation. In my opinion, that’s a pretty good return on investment.
“If you’re not doing anything different, that is what you will get – nothing different,” Lillibridge added. “If you are doing something new to protect and improve soil health, it will get noticed and at some point, you will see a return on that.”