Crawford County farmer Doug Gronau switched to a no-till system 15 years ago and has been increasing the use of cover crops since 2013. He owns three-quarters of the land he farms. On the other quarter, he discusses the soil health benefits of those practices with landowners to demonstrate the importance of adding conservation practices on rented land.
Setting expectations is important
Gronau utilizes his trust with landowners to start discussions on the importance of no-till. With one landowner in particular, he knew it would be important to explain why the land would look different. “I told him the land wouldn’t be black after harvest in a no-till system,” he said. “I explained why it was the right thing to do and he agreed it was worth trying.”
The benefits of no-till were seen the following year. “We had a 5-inch rain in early June. The land near this rented farm had a disk run through it in the fall and spring, and then field cultivated,” he explained. “The field was severely washed out and eroded by the rain. The damage to the field was devastating and the debris even plugged a large culvert. But on our field, the crop and soil did not erode away.”
Gronau brought the landowner to the field and showed him the differences. “He became a believer in no-till and sees the improvement in the soil’s ability to absorb water and not wash away,” he said.
“Demonstrating to landowners the problems conservation practices can solve goes a long way toward getting them on board,” he added. “Not adding conservation practices on rented land can be devastating. Landowners don’t want to see the soil washed away. That’s why I believe doing something is better than doing nothing.”
Gronau attributes his reputation of being conservation-minded with the acquisition of a new piece of rented land. “This landowner was raised in my neighborhood and his tenant recently moved. Because he knew I used conservation practices to protect the soil, he asked if I would rent his land,” he said. “He told me he trusts me to farm the land as I wanted.”
Tackling the topic of cover crops on rented land
When adding cover crops to his farm, Gronau started small and made adjustments before expanding acres. He has witnessed benefits – erosion control, weed suppression, improved soil structure and sequestered nutrients – accumulate through the years.
He plans to talk to landowners about his experiences with cover crops in hopes to add them on rented land. “To get landowners thinking about cover crops, you have to start the conversation by sharing your experiences,” he said.
Gronau’s farm has miles of terraces and grass waterways to slow the flow of water down the rolling hills. Waterways are also a popular place for wildlife. “I’m using as many conservation practices as I can to protect and improve the quality of the land,” he said. “We want to do our best to keep the soil productive for generations to come and to protect our natural resources.”