EVANSVILLE – Russ Elliott says there are some misconceptions about farming he’d like to share from a farmer’s perspective.
Elliott, a Douglas County farmer and president of the Douglas County Corn and Soybean Growers Association, said farmers don’t set the price for their produce. Farmers follow the US commodity market, which is driven by the global market. He also noted that world events can also impact the US commodities market.
For example, what happens in Ukraine impacts U.S. wheat markets, Elliott said. In the short term, he said it would be good for American farmers because it would help increase incomes.
However, in the long term, Elliott said it would create “demand destruction.” He explained that end users, like consumers for example, will simply buy less because the price of the product is higher. Maybe they will buy less bread from the supermarket or maybe farmers who feed wheat to their cattle might get rid of some cattle due to rising costs.
In the grand scheme of things, that may not seem like much, but it can add up, he said.
Another myth or misconception is that farmers over-fertilize and over-use pesticides.
“We have the ability to accurately apply fertilizer with 98% accuracy,” Elliott said, noting that there are, however, many factors beyond a farmer’s control – rain, heat, performance, etc.
He also noted that the University of Minnesota uses predictive models that many farmers review and study, as well as many other tools to apply fertilizers correctly, including how much, when and what type of application is used.
Because Douglas County is blessed with so many lakes, Elliott said that’s why people are concerned about fertilizer.
“When we do our business, it’s in front of God and everyone else and people can easily form an opinion without asking us or anyone for that matter,” he said. “It’s frustrating. I think if people knew what we really do, the technology we use and the way we operate our farms, it would be better.
Elliott explained that for him, his farmland is divided into two-and-a-half-acre plots and based on the data for that specific location, the appropriate amount of fertilizer or pesticide needed is applied. Technology plays a huge role in this as samples are taken and then the data is uploaded to a program on his iPad and then from there based on that data the appropriate amounts are applied.
“Not all acres in Douglas County are treated the same,” he said. “It’s not just a general program that every farmer uses. Most farmers are environmentally friendly and we don’t just waste fertilizers and pesticides.
Elliott said to consider going to a gas station, filling up your vehicle, and just for fun, keeping the gas pump running with the gas spilling all over the floor. He said it made no sense.
Drainage tiles and water quality
According to Elliott, properly installed drains have little impact on water quality.
He said the field drain pipe is a perforated plastic pipe that is installed in farmers’ fields.
“When you place a drainage tile in the field, you are trying to remove excess moisture so that you have more oxygen so the roots can grow deeper and your crops are healthier,” said he declared. “If there is fertilizer that has migrated deeper into the soil, the roots are able to grow to that depth and pick up the fertilizer and then bring it back into the plant.”
He said to think of a kitchen sponge. When wet, it soaks up all the water until it doesn’t. It’s the same way soil works, he says. When the soil is oversaturated, that is when there is a tendency for nutrient runoff and when there is nutrient runoff, there can be water quality issues.
And the only times that really happens, Elliott said, is when there are massive amounts of rain. If farmers didn’t have drainage tiles, people would see runoff much sooner. Drainage tiles are sized for the area they will drain. He said that ideally they are sized so that the retained water is removed from the field within 24 hours because if the water is not removed within that time the crops tend to die. . Crops cannot survive if they are under water after 24 hours.
“If you have drainpipes properly installed, it gives the water 24 hours to release any sediment that has washed away and leave it in the field instead of letting the water drain away,” Elliott said.
Properly installed drainage tiles are there to help farmers and the land.
There’s no perfect way to grow crops, Elliott said. In Douglas County, the three main farming methods are organic, no-till, or conventional tillage.
For organic produce, Elliott said no pesticides were used and only organic fertilizers. Commercial fertilizers cannot be used by a certified organic farmer.
Organic farming uses machines to control weeds and the land has to be plowed, he added.
“So the positive is you didn’t use any ‘unnatural’ stuff,” Elliott said. “The downside is that the more you till the soil, the more carbon you release into the atmosphere and increase the risk of soil erosion. Organic farms also tend to have lower yields.
A no-till farm means there is little to no tillage and very minimal amount of carbon is released into the atmosphere, Elliott explained. But he noted that most no-till farms probably use more pesticides to replace the weeding done by tillage, but they get average yields.
He added that direct seeding does not work for all soil types.
Conventional tillage is a hybrid of the two – organic and no-till, he said.
“We do some tillage but use less pesticides,” he said, noting again that there is no perfect way to grow crops.
Due to the heavier soils in this region and the cooler average temperatures, Elliott said the conventional tillage method leaves the soil black which warms up earlier and seems to be the most popular.
An often-heard comment, Elliott said, is that farmers continue to cultivate and clear new land to increase their acreage. But he said one fact that is not well known is that every year agricultural land is shrinking.
While researching this, Elliott said a University of Illinois study found that in 16 years, there was a reduction of 14 million acres of farmland in the United States. United. registered by the USDA office, he said.
The main driver of the loss of agricultural land? Elliott thinks it’s development. He said there are lands that are put into perpetual easements with government agencies like the Department of Natural Resources or the US Fish and Wildlife, but most of the time he said the loss of land is due to the development.
Finding farmland is probably the hardest part of farming, he said.