Take a whole-farm approach

Reprinted from www.farmprogress.com by Carol Brown

Craig Fleishman is not a typical Iowa farmer. He grows corn and soybeans, but his approach to running his Dallas County Century Farm is atypical. Throughout his career, this fifth-generation farmer has been concerned with conservation and keeping soil productive on his farm near Minburn. He farms at the homeplace, as well as on rented land; some acres are conventional and some are organic.

In 1981, Fleishman started experimenting with ridge-till, and in 1985 he adopted Low Input Sustainable Agriculture (LISA), which was a  provision in the 1985 Farm Bill. According to USDA’s definition, this system refers to “purchasing few off-farm inputs [usually fertilizers and pesticides], while increasing on-farm inputs [i.e. manures, cover crops and management].” Fleishman has been farming with this theory since then.  He  has  added extended rotations, strip-cropping and structures,  including grassed waterways, filter strips and a wetland.


An Iowa Learning Farms farmer-partner, Craig and his wife, Deb, hosted an ILF field day in August. He wanted to highlight “a whole integrated system of conservation practices.” Field day attendees got to see strip-cropped fields of corn, beans and oats, replicated in 12-row strips.

“In the past, my goal for strip cropping had been erosion control. The strips, combined with ridge till, and now cover crops, really slow down the sheet and gully erosion by interrupting the drainage patterns,” says Fleishman. “As I move forward, erosion control and soil health will remain a  priority,
but I want to push the corn yields by pushing the agronomics.”

Fleishman is researching new ways to plant his corn strips, such as shorter varieties on the outside rows. “This would allow me to run the outside rows at a higher population rate to take advantage of the extra light exposure,” he says. “There seems to be the belief that you have either high yields or conservation. I want to prove that I can have both.”

He has included cover crops in his rotation since 2009 and has a mixture of oats and radishes on some of his acres. Cover crops reduce soil erosion, build soil organic matter and take up nitrogen. Using cover crop mixtures helps with nutrient and water uptake, pest and disease suppression, and soil structure and organic matter. “We need to take care of the soil. It is good business and the right thing to do,” he says.

More fall field days to come

ILF has more field days planned for after harvest. On Sept. 17, a grazing management field day will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Moore Angus Farms near Melrose in south-central Iowa. Topics include grassland management for grazing, soil health and cost-share programs. It is sponsored by ILF and the Cooper Creek Watershed Project.

ILF field days are a go-to  resource for up-to-date, accurate information on farming practices to aid in soil health and preservation, nutrient management, new practices and more.

Visit the ILF website at extension. iastate.edu/ilf for more resources, including archived webinars, publications, and field day and workshop schedules.

Brown is a communications specialist with Iowa Learning Farms.