A Win-Win in Sioux County

Matt Schelling is a 3rd generation dairyman, farming just east of Sioux Center, Iowa. All the silage, hay, and grain harvested from his farm goes right back to his 120 holsteins. Matt might consider his operation small, but the progress he has made over the years towards farm profitability and sustainability are BIG.

Due to the needs of his cattle, Matt was finding success with a corn and alfalfa rotation. The alfalfa was not only a valuable part of his feed ration yielding close to 10 dry tons per acre, but also acted as a great cover crop, holding nitrogen and soil in place. Despite this, he wanted to add some diversity to his rotation. Matt had just acquired 40 acres close to his home, and this provided him the opportunity to plant soybeans for the first time. But he didn’t stop there.

Keeping up to date on industries that directly impact Matt’s operation is important to him. That’s why he is a member of the Western Iowa Dairy Association (WIDA) and manages a silage plot in partnership with Hull Coop. Learning what hybrids are going to give him the greatest amount of milk per acre and improve digestibility are some of the things he considers. Another consideration is protecting his most valuable asset: soil. He had heard good things about cover crops, low disturbance manure, and no-till, and even seen how those practices had reduced soil loss in neighboring fields. After learning more about these practices and the associated cost-share opportunities through the local WQI Project, Matt was ready to jump in head first.

86 bushels per acre isn’t too bad for his first bean crop ever. He was amazed at how beans could yield so high, and with no-till management! Matt wanted to cut down on tillage cost as well as soil disturbance since this field had some steep slopes. It turns out he could not have picked a better year to try no-till, as devastating floods hit twice in 2018. Despite the flooding, Matt had no noticeable erosion in his bean field as the existing corn residue protected the soil.

Matt took it one step further by flying on oats and radishes into the beans during the first week of September. September rains provided ample moisture for the oats and radishes to grow 8 inches tall and provide added organic matter, soil stabilization, improved nutrient and water cycling, as well as hold nitrogen for the next crop. The combines bean head glided through the cover crop without a problem. To finish off 2018, Matt decided to apply manure with a low disturbance toolbar to leave as much surface residue in place as possible.

2018 was a rough year to farm in NW Iowa, but Matt Schelling was able to manage his farm effectively to produce a record crop while protecting the land that provides for him and his family. In the future, Matt is looking to expand his use of the low disturbance toolbar over more acres, which will allow him to fly on more oats after silage chop. The practices Matt implemented are tools used in the nutrient reduction strategy to reduce nutrient loading and improve water quality. This story showcases a win for the farmer, and a win for Iowa’s water quality.

Will Myers