SSWIG Conference

May 18, 2023

Holtz Farms tractor in field

This year’s Sauk Soil & Water Improvement Group (SSWIG) Conference was the first step in my honest to goodness understanding of what it means to be a good farmer. It’s not as easy as one might think — the amount of planning, plant and soil health knowledge, mechanical mastery (and now computational comprehension) — it’s lots of hard work to operate a farm. Which is why it’s been a true inspiration to me and has sparked an interest that I didn’t know I had coming into my role. Meanwhile, Tyler’s been going to these for years and will pick up a few new tricks of the trade, but he mostly uses this time to brainstorm the formula of “ingredients” he wants to use on our fields and network with fellow farmers.

Dave Brandt: “Minister of Soil”

I learned a lot from this conference and was able to hear from local like-minded individuals who all want to improve their farming practices. Dave Brandt was the main keynote speaker for this year’s SSWIG Conference. He’s known as the “soil health grandfather” alongside his buddy Ray Archuleto, the “Minister of Soil” from Seymour, MO. If you haven’t heard of either, you should really check them out — they’re both pretty neat! (Click the underlined names to learn more.)

Dave talked a lot about his farm which is located in Columbus, OH, and the experiment he did in the late 70’s with a no-till strategy aling with cover cropping his land but what he didn’t know was that he was a steward in this generation’s sustainable practices. Then, he explained and presented us with graphs and boundless data that his team has retrieved over the years of high yields and other good benefits from these practices. Taking this all in, Tyler reminded me that their soil is also a bit different than ours, and the weather in this southern midwest state is more temperate compared to Wisconsin’s unpredictable climate… but for the most part we can replicate their farming practices and utilize their knowledge for our future crops. Like with anything, there’s always areas of improvement!

Four Main Takeways

  1. It is so important to use cover crops and keep the soil covered at all times.
  2. Don’t till the soil when possible. Tilling harms the soil nutrients symbiosis (and the weight of the machinery compacts the soil which is also harmful for plant growth).
  3. Diversify the crop rotation and cover crops as much as you can, the variety helps insure against weather extremes.

Bottomline, try your best to improve your soil’s health, I promise it will increase your yields as well as your bottomline.

(Below are some photos I took from the SSWIG Conference presentation slides.)

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