Farmer: Investing in soil health pays | News


Farmer: Investing in soil health pays

A line of people walk through a field of alfalfa at the Conservation in Action Tour.

ATTICA, Ind. — More than 200 people had a front row view of conservation farming during the Conservation in Action Tour.

The tour stopped at the DeSutter farm in west-central Indiana. Participants learned about the importance of healthy soils.


Farmer: Investing in soil health pays

Dan DeSutter, a farmer who puts an emphasis on conservation, talks about his philosophies during the Conservation in Action Tour. Putting the focus on soil health sets his farm apart from others, he says.

Farmer Dan DeSutter grows 4,300 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, pasture and grass-fed beef with his family.

“I was a child of the ‘80s,” he said. “At that time, the ag economy looked pretty grim. I left the farm and went to business school.

“One of the first things I learned in business school is that, in a commodity business, the average producer breaks even in the long haul — which implies that, if you can’t figure out how to be above average somehow, you’re destined to scrape by.”

DeSutter brought that lesson home when he decided to return to farming.

If you’re going to be in a commodity business, you have to find a way to separate yourself from the crowd, he said. You need an unfair advantage.

The DeSutters use risk management and soil health to distinguish their operation.

“We’ve concentrated on those two things in order to set ourselves apart and be above average, so we can make a profit,” he said.


Farmer: Investing in soil health pays

Jon Eldon (left) asks soil scientist Gary Struben questions about soil health. Struben helped dig a pit to observe soil characteristics on the DeSutter farm.

Deep Into Dirt

Focusing on soil health helps the farm stay profitable in several ways.

“Over the last five years, as we’ve injected more diversity into the operation, our per-acre input costs have dropped $100 to $150 an acre,” DeSutter said.

“On the flipside, because of our diversity and less weed pressure and disease, we’ve been able to enter into premium markets in which we get paid more for our crops. Between those two things, that’s had a pretty positive affect on our bottom line.”

The financial boost came at a time when the farm needed it most. Corn and soybean prices have dropped significantly the past few years.

“This has allowed us to maintain a good level of profitability in the face of not-so-great economic conditions,” DeSutter said. “We’re finding premium markets in non-GMO corn and soybeans.

“We really think we’re close to being able to do things organically. That will double our profits. We have some kinks to work out, but that’s where we think we can go as we get our soil health improved.”


Farmer: Investing in soil health pays

A soil sample is taken from the DeSutter farm in Attica, Ind. Soils can vary greatly within a single field, says Gary Struben, soil scientist at NRCS.

Another strategy the DeSutters use is to own land, rather than rent it. This allows them to have more control over the land long-term.

“It allows us to be there when the fruits of our labor start to manifest,” he said. “We’re starting to see that happen.”


Farmer: Investing in soil health pays

Participants of the Conservation in Action Tour learn about phosphorous removal structures. The structure serves as a filter for dissolved phosphorous in runoff water.

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