Making a Living on the Farm with Less: Water conservation, strip tiling, agritourism, etc.
May 5, 2014
In the early spring, farmers begin the process of preparing the ground for the year's crop.
This preparation is vital to the health of the plant, and the likelihood of its success in the soil.
Traditionally, farmers have used plows on the field.
However, a conservation trend is taking over, and that is utilizing no or strip tilling.
One farmer who uses this method is Nathan Weathers, a member of Weathers Family Farms in Yuma, Colo. "We implement conservation practices to conserve time, money, and our natural resources. If we aren't saving on two of the three of those generally we shouldn't be using the practice," he said.
Weathers Family Farms was started in 1975 with Byron and Lalani Weathers, and in 2004, their son, Nathan, came back to the farm. Nathan now farms with his wife Nikki and their two children, along with his father and grandfather.
The family owned 2,000 acres of irrigated ground and 1,000 acres of dryland area. They grow corn and some dryland wheat, as well as popcorn, sweet corn, watermelons and pumpkins. They also own a small herd of cattle.
They use strip tilling on their corn.
"Strip tilling is the process of tilling a seven-inch wide furrow to plant corn in, while leaving the ground in between the rows undisturbed. This allows us to save soil moisture and increase organic matter over time by leaving the residue from the previous year's crop. My dad was one of the first in the state to adopt this practice and has never looked back," Weathers explained.
He continued, "When we drill our rye and wheat we are minimum till. We have found that using an inline ripper that fractures the soil profile while leaving about 90 percent of residue on top of the soil has greatly benefited our fall crops."
When it's time to plant and fertilize, the family utilizes several different varieties.
"We are learning about different varieties and how they take up water, as well as how to use our sprinkler to better variable rate irrigate. Variable rate seed and fertilizer application has been used to conserve resources for over 15 years," Weathers stated.
Conservation extends to more than just prepping the ground and what type of seed is used in planting, however.
The family also conserves water.
"Living in an arid desert, we are always trying to conserve moisture however possible. Using electronic moisture probes in our fields have allowed us to learn how to better use our water resource when irrigating," he said.
Learning these practices doesn't happen overnight, and technology plays a huge role in the advancement of farming and how conservation is used. "We are always looking at upgrading and possibly even switching types of technologies to either save time or money. My father has been on the cutting edge of technology throughout his entire life. He has tried a lot of things that worked as well as a lot of things that didn't," he said.
He continued, "Sometimes farmers get too caught up in their own businesses that they don't look around to see what they can learn from a neighbor. We have always been pretty open with people about what we do and why we do it, so we have many people stopping by or calling to ask questions. As an industry, we need to learn how to work together, not against each other, to produce the food, fiber, and fuel for this great nation and world."
The family has added enterprises to the operation, in order to stay diversified and profitable.
"We added cattle in 2010, and we now have 21 cows and are starting to sell freezer beef direct to consumers. We use a rotational grazing system with cross-fences that allows us to better utilize our pasture resource, and that helps with conservation as well," he stated.
The future of the farm is bright, as the family continues to focus on conserving resources and diversifying their operation.
"We are looking forward to trying some new things this year. We felt that it was time that we started utilizing some of our resources in different ways. For the first time we are going to start selling some sweet corn, pumpkins, and maybe even some watermelons. We will also be experimenting with a very simple corn maze so families can come out to the farm and learn a little bit more about agriculture and where their food comes from while trying to find their way through the corn. We are also looking forward to building more relationships with consumers through the direct marketing of our beef," Weathers said.
Being a farmer is not always an easy task, and brings its own set of challenges.
"This industry provides a challenge no other can bring to the table: massive swings in the market, negotiating the prices of inputs as well as the price of our commodity, the technology that we use on a daily basis and learning how to work together with end users so that we can all stay in business, just to name a few," Weathers explained.
Another challenge the family faces is a steady income.
"Learning how to lock in a livable margin is sometimes hard to do. We all get caught up with what is going on around us that we sometimes forget that we can only control our own decisions and our own business plan," he said.
However, he feels the benefits outweigh the challenges, and in the end, it's all about family.
"I absolutely love the lifestyle that agriculture provides. Some days we are working on equipment in the shop, and the next day we may be in a semi hauling grain, and then quitting early to load the kids and go check cows. We enjoy spending family time together and teaching our children how we provide for the world. Not many occupations are as family friendly as this one," Weathers stated.
He added, "The lifestyle and being able to raise a family in the country are both great reasons to be involved in agriculture." ❖