- DTN Headline News
Listen to the Land - 11
Friday, March 22, 2019 2:06PM CDT
By Elton Robinson
Progressive Farmer Contributing Editor

Robby Bevis didn't decide to chuck his farm-management plan and get closer to nature on a whim. It took some convincing by friends and finally a commitment to let plants and biology tell him how to manage the crop.

The transformation began back in 2012, when former college friends working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service started telling Bevis about the benefits of cover crops. "They told me about how the biology of the soil worked and how I could make the soil healthy again," Bevis recalled.

He wasn't so sure, although he had already adopted no-till for several years -- primarily to cut costs. Still, Bevis decided to try cover crops on about 900 acres with the help of a government program that paid all the costs.

He noticed two things. First, farming got even uglier, which didn't make much of an impression on Bevis. He said farmers don't like driving the turnrow and not see a pretty row of corn standing from end to end because the cover crop is there. He said they don't like waiting three weeks to see a stand instead of the typical 10 days with no cover crops.


On the other hand, tangible benefits were starting to surface. "I saw my irrigation costs going down. I started cutting back on potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) in corn, and went to zero P and K in soybeans. Today, we're starting to cut back on some nitrogen and still turning out 175-to-195-bushel corn. We are running 50-to-55-bushel yields on soybeans."

When all was said and done, ugly won, which sent Bevis down a road of discovery -- and trial and error.

One of the first things that became evident after the transformation was that Bevis spent less time in the tractor seat and more time walking the fields. He scouted fields looking for earthworms and beneficials that were thriving due to healthier soils and fewer pesticide applications.

"We, as farmers, need to spend more time in the fields looking and seeing, and letting the plants tell us what we need to do instead of automatically doing certain things," Bevis pointed out. "Instead of just looking at insect pressure and worm pressure early in the spring, we need to be sweeping (with a net) and trying to find beneficials. If we have a good number, then we're not going to have near as many pest problems."


Bevis, who farms with his father, Bob, and son Trey, southwest of Lonoke, Arkansas, quickly expanded his use of cover crops to 2,700 acres. Typically, Bevis chemically terminates the cover crop based on its condition and biomass. "It's hard to say when the sweet spot for termination is going to be," he explained. "We had a mild winter in 2016, and the cover crop did well. We began terminating around the end of March.

"In 2017, we had a hard winter and a dry fall, and the cover crop didn't do as well. I had to wait until about mid-April before I started terminating it. At times, I've pushed out my planting date two weeks beyond everybody else's on my first plantings of corn. They told me when I got into this that my cash crop would start revolving around my cover crop. That's turned out to be true."

When it's time to plant soybeans, Bevis' cover crop will be anywhere from waist high to 6 feet tall. He uses a roller/crimper ahead of the planter to flatten the cover. He has found the mechanical action of the roller along with a chemical application do a better job of cover-crop termination than a chemical application alone.

In corn, Bevis said he doesn't roll his cover crop because it typically hasn't gotten enough growth by planting time to give him any problems. "But, it can go from manageable to hard to manage very quickly," he explained.

The planter runs right behind the rolling operation. "I don't use no-till coulters or trash sweeps, but I do have a serrated disk opener," Bevis said. "Once you do cover crops and no-till for several years, your soil becomes more mellow, so it's not hard to plant into."

Cover crops require the presence of farmer footprints in the soil, as well, Bevis stressed. "You have to get out and look a little closer for weeds to make sure your covers are thick enough to suppress weeds. Make sure you don't have any thin spots in the field where you could have some weed escapes."

Bevis' go-to blend for his cover crop going into soybeans is cereal rye, black oats, vetch and some type of brassica. In corn, he'll add more legumes to the mix.

He also has adopted a no-till practice he called "have to till," where he tills only if he has to, for example, if rutting occurs during harvest.

Bevis credited Ray Archuleta, former soil conservationist with the NRCS, for setting him on the right path to soil health. "Ray would say, 'I want to get you to the point where it hurts for you to do tillage.' Today, it hurts me to watch my neighbors do tillage," Bevis said. "I used to love the smell of fresh-tilled dirt until I realized that the smell is the death of your biology."


Bevis is returning the favor of Archuleta and others by convincing more farmers to adopt soil-health practices. He is assisting other farmers to ease into the soil-health movement. "My passion is to get more farmers interested in soil health. We have figured out a lot of answers in the alliance. We want to get that information to other farmers wanting to try soil-health practices," he said.

The alliance is a partnership with the University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University and the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts. "We're working on research and getting some trials started so we can have scientific evidence behind what we're doing," Bevis explained.

Soil health is not always about having the best yields, he added. "It's about having the best margins. I would much rather be a profitable 40-bushel soybean farmer than a break-even 60-bushel soybean farmer."

Mother Nature can work for farmers just like it does for natural prairies and forests, Bevis added. "Think about it: Nobody fertilizes Mother Nature. Nobody applies insecticides; nobody irrigates. Now, are there years that there's not as good an acorn crop? Yes. But, if you really look at it, Mother Nature will fix herself if you'll just get out of her way."


blog iconDTN Blogs & Forums
DTN Market Matters Blog
Editorial Staff
Monday, March 25, 2019 11:36AM CDT
Friday, March 22, 2019 11:37AM CDT
Monday, March 18, 2019 12:02PM CDT
Technically Speaking
Editorial Staff
Monday, March 25, 2019 10:09AM CDT
Monday, March 18, 2019 8:43AM CDT
Monday, March 11, 2019 8:49AM CDT
Fundamentally Speaking
Joel Karlin
DTN Contributing Analyst
Thursday, March 21, 2019 10:05AM CDT
Monday, March 18, 2019 8:11AM CDT
Thursday, March 14, 2019 10:14AM CDT
DTN Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
Monday, March 25, 2019 11:50AM CDT
Thursday, March 21, 2019 9:44AM CDT
Wednesday, March 20, 2019 10:41AM CDT
Minding Ag's Business
Katie Behlinger
Farm Business Editor
Monday, January 28, 2019 2:05PM CDT
Monday, January 7, 2019 4:47PM CDT
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 4:55PM CDT
DTN Ag Weather Forum
Bryce Anderson
DTN Ag Meteorologist and DTN Analyst
Friday, March 22, 2019 2:15PM CDT
Thursday, March 21, 2019 2:09PM CDT
Tuesday, March 19, 2019 1:50PM CDT
DTN Ethanol Blog
Editorial Staff
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 10:09AM CDT
Wednesday, March 6, 2019 10:14AM CDT
Wednesday, February 27, 2019 10:19AM CDT
DTN Production Blog
Pam Smith
Crops Technology Editor
Friday, March 15, 2019 2:53PM CDT
Friday, February 22, 2019 5:28PM CDT
Monday, January 28, 2019 7:56AM CDT
Harrington's Sort & Cull
John Harrington
DTN Livestock Analyst
Friday, March 15, 2019 6:01PM CDT
Wednesday, February 20, 2019 5:17PM CDT
Friday, January 25, 2019 6:38PM CDT
South America Calling
Editorial Staff
Tuesday, February 26, 2019 2:25PM CDT
Thursday, February 21, 2019 11:42AM CDT
Friday, February 15, 2019 6:09PM CDT
An Urban’s Rural View
Urban Lehner
Editor Emeritus
Thursday, March 21, 2019 6:39PM CDT
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 5:14PM CDT
Monday, March 4, 2019 11:53AM CDT
Machinery Chatter
Dan Miller
Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Thursday, March 14, 2019 4:45PM CDT
Friday, March 8, 2019 11:26AM CDT
Friday, March 1, 2019 1:58PM CDT
Canadian Markets
Cliff Jamieson
Canadian Grains Analyst
Monday, March 25, 2019 3:29PM CDT
Friday, March 22, 2019 4:03PM CDT
Thursday, March 21, 2019 6:12PM CDT
Editor’s Notebook
Greg D. Horstmeier
DTN Editor-in-Chief
Friday, March 22, 2019 5:24PM CDT
Monday, March 11, 2019 6:19PM CDT
Tuesday, February 26, 2019 6:10PM CDT
"Central States Commodities, INC. is a registered trademark. All rights reserved. Central States Commodities, INC. is a Guaranteed Introducing Broker of R.J. O'Brien. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future performance. The risk of loss in trading futures contracts or commodity options can be substantial, and therefore investors should understand the risks involved in taking leveraged positions and must assume responsibility for the risks associated with such investments and for their results."
Copyright DTN. All rights reserved. Disclaimer.
Powered By DTN