Demonstrating Ridge-Tillage and Cover Crops

Read Craig’s feature from the September 2012 issue of Wallaces Farmer:

Fleishman combats weed resistance with ridge-till in Dallas County

Iowa Learning Farms partner Craig Fleishman farms near Minburn in Dallas County, Iowa, where he grows corn and soybean using primarily ridge-tillage management. Farmers, like Fleishman, who are using ridge-till on their fields plant into elevated field-length ridges that remain in place year-to-year. Ridge-till planters push soil from ridge tops into the row middles. In June, ridges are re-established and weed seedlings are buried with a between-row ridge cultivator.

Fleishman has partnered with Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) since 2009, demonstrating ridge-tillage and now cover crops, too. ILF works with many farmers across the state who are using conservation farming practices while remaining profitable. Our farmers help ILF by sharing their experiences with others to help build a Culture of Conservation. They host field days, speak at workshops, or chat one-on-one with other farmers who are interested in making changes on their own farms.

Fleishman has used ridge-tillage since 1981 because he prefers planting into the elevated seedbed that the ridge-tiller makes. He also likes the weed suppression and controlled wheel traffic. The economics of ridge-till is a plus as well, as Fleishman’s only tillage pass for seedbed preparation is pulling a 12-row ridge cultivator with a mid-sized tractor.  “I believe soil conservation is being sacrificed to ever-increasing larger equipment,” says Craig. He plants corn and soybean in two or three-year rotations and also maintains some acres in a corn-soybean-oat rotation that includes red clover harvested for hay.

Fleishman uses a coulter applicator to deep-band dry phosphorus and potassium fertilizer into ridges on every acre every year, preferably after harvest in the fall.  Nitrogen is split-applied to corn, with about a third of total N applied with the planter as liquid UAN, and in June the remainder is sidedress-applied as anhydrous ammonia with the ridge cultivator. Fleishman finds that corn-on-corn especially responds to the planter-applied liquid UAN.

Craig believes ridge-till’s combination of chemical and mechanical weed control (between-row cultivation) practices minimizes the risk of glyphosate-resistant weed pressure.  “With the ridge-till system I have multiple modes of action to control weeds,” Fleishman notes.  “There is nothing like a well-adjusted ridge cultivator with disk hillers and 16-inch sweeps for taking out Roundup resistant weeds.”  He has encountered waterhemp weed escapes in his un-cultivated headlands where soybean is planted in 15-inch rows.

Craig has also established fall-seeded cover crops following soybean harvest on his farm. He is participating in the cover crop demonstration group through ILF and Practical Farmers of Iowa.

“Good soil stewardship is good business. It does not make economic sense to let soil erode into ditches and waterways, as this robs the precious soil resource from future generations,” stated Fleishman. “I’m very concerned about the fencerow to fencerow monoculture cropping systems being used today. Our soil resources are really being stretched. I believe past soil conservation practices—or lack thereof—should be reflected in the value of a farm when determining sale value.”

Recently he was recognized for the care he takes on his farm. The Fleishman family was one of 67 Iowa farmers who received the first Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award presented by Governor Branstad at this year’s Iowa State Fair. The award “seeks to recognize the exemplary voluntary actions of farmers that improve or protect the environment and natural resources of our state while also encouraging other farmers to follow in their footsteps by building success upon success” as stated in the ceremony program.  Craig was one of several ILF farmer partners to receive the award. Their stewardship is what Iowa Learning Farms is all about.