LIBERAL – Many Kansans say that it is impossible to keep water in the ground by not plowing dry land. On Thursday, a farmer in southwestern Kansas said it could, at least for the most part.
Nick Vos is changing the biology of his soil. He gives it structure and helps it retain water on his land in Hugoton and northern Oklahoma, just across the border with the Liberals.
âPlowing is a practical solution for us who are trying to get away from chemicals,â Vos said. “We are too dry too often to have consistency.”
Vos’s method seems to work on his two fields because each year his soil is able to retain more and more water.
âIt’s all trial and error,â Vos said. “We try to learn as we go. There is no one way to do it.”
Plains no-till soil health event
Farmers from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas came to the No-till plowing in the plains soil health event at Liberal Thursday. Jordan Dyck, from Kansan, woke up at 3:30 a.m. on the morning of the conference. Dyck (who farms in Texas, but when he was little he grew up on a dairy farm in Moundridge) picked up his friend and fellow farmer, Waylen Becker, at his home in Oklahoma.
Dyck and Becker try to use as many regenerative practices as possible on their crops. Both men use cover crops, try not to plow, and try to keep a living root in the ground as much as possible.In addition, the two men rent their pastures to cattle herders so that the animals can graze. Like Vos, their soil is sandy.
âI try to be as refreshing as possible,â Dyck said. âThere are way too many sprays out there. Cover crops will do much more than the plow. “
Many farmers who cultivate on sandy soil do not believe that regenerative agriculture will work for them. There is a long learning curve with the shift to regenerative practices. So, attending events like this helps farmers understand the process and how it would work in sandy soil and a climate with little rain.
For regenerative agriculture to work, you need to have a living root in the soil, plant cover crops, reduce herbicides, bring in livestock, and stop plowing the land.
Now, Vos said he does everything except he does a stint in his fields every season. Because he raises grass-fed sheep, he wants to keep the chemicals out of the ground and, he said, from now on, the only way he’s able to do that is to do it. operate the machines on its land strategically.
This is Vos’s claim that his two or more plowing each year does not affect the biology of his soil: that is, as long as he does everything else as well as he knows how to do it.
Candy Thomas, NRCS regional soil health specialist, who is based in Salina, tested Vos soil in his untilled land, and in which he sweeps his land about twice a year and found that ‘there wasn’t much of a difference. But when she took a section of area where a pipeline was placed on the ground in the Vos field and the area had been heavily plowed, there was a major difference.
âYou can see how starved these soils are for carbon (where the soil has been heavily plowed),â she said. “(With the regenerative principles) the activity (the worms) is there. There is a good structure.”
For Ryan Speer of Sedgwick, who has more clay soil and receives more rain than in southwestern Kansas, regenerative agriculture is nothing new. He grows cover crops, cotton and soybeans on his farm. Speer has practiced no-till for 20 years and has been using regenerative practices for about 15 years.
Due to the dry soil and lack of rain in southwestern Kansas, many farmers remain hesitant. Jordan Koehn of Sublette and John Kirkchoff of Garden City attended the conference. Kirkchoff said he plans to regenerate. Koehn has already started cultivating corn, soybeans and sorghum on his irrigated land. He has been using cover crops for three years.
âI would love to incorporate some sort of animal eventually,â Kirkchoff said.
Benefits in sheep
The main product of Vos is sheep. He also grows soybeans, corn, and many diverse cover crops. Because the sheep are fed by its crops, they do not need drugs or minerals. Sheep also take care of amaranth on Vos’s land.
“The more we graze it, the more perennials come back without adding inputs,” Vos said. “The sheep are compacting the top end. We have tons of residue.”
This residue leads to healthier soil. And healthier soil means less chemicals and less runoff.
Tyrel Owens of Minneapolis, Kansas, said Vos is his mentor.
âSheep are my main operation,â Owens said. “They are my cash crop.”
Like Vos, Owens’ sheep are healthy.
âWe are building a fairly resilient dewormed herd,â Vos said. “We look at the pastures, when he needs a break, we move them.”
Vos said the sheep will graze to the ground and then move to another location. This method gives the Vos nutrition for their sheep. They also give birth to more twins, and the earth contains more carbon and nitrogen.
“If you leave them long enough, they will end up grazing by the crowds in every place,” he said. “You can’t try to manage them.”
Vos also told the group that there is a huge demand for mutton. He plans to increase his herd from around 250 to at least 500 by next year.
Many at the conference are trying some form of regeneration process, but they are not raising animals. Many saw the value of adding sheep to their mix. Because sheep need less food, they are easier to handle on drier soil.
âI want to get into the sheep,â Dyck said. âThis (event) made me want to have sheep.
Kinzie Reiss of Weston raises goats on his land in north-central Kansas. She doesn’t want to buy sheep, but she was excited to learn more about the benefits of sheep and to equate them with her goats.
âSheep biology seems to make up for anything we do wrong,â Vos said. âPreviously (our soil) was more sandy. We’re pretty happy with the progress we’ve made.â