By Tom Collins
MORRISBURG —Warren Schneckenburger wanted to change the way the family was farming 10 years ago. The hardest part wasn’t deciding what to do, it was keeping an open mind that there could be better ways to do things.
“It’s not necessarily that we were wrong, but the way we were farming was not the only way, and that other ways can work extremely well,” said Schneckenburger, who was named Ontario’s Innovative Farmer of the Year in early January by the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario.
Schneckenburger runs a cash crop and small beef feedlot at Morrisburg, about 20 minutes southeast of Winchester with his well-known father Arden. In 2011, Warren Schneckenburger was at the National No-Till Conference in Ohio when a slideshow photo of strip-tilling into a lush green field of annual ryegrass became a flip-of-the-light-switch moment.
At the time, the moldboard plow was the main fall tillage tool for 100 per cent of corn and about 50 per cent of soybeans on Schneckenburger’s farm. Corn-on-corn covered about 65 per cent of the farm, with soybeans only grown on well-drained and stone-free soils.
After the conference, the farm stopped plowing and switched to a disk ripper. The Schneckenburgers added winter wheat into the rotation and interseeded cereal rye into corn. They also do more strip tillage with a goal to eventually become no-till within 10 years, although that will require spending more money on drainage.
Schneckenburger says in the past 10 years, his corn yields have risen on average by 20 bushels per acre and soybean yields by about eight bu/ac. He says about 25 per cent of that increase can be attributed to the changes he’s made on the farm, with the reduction in tillage being the most influential.
The next goal is to reduce the amount of compaction, which some experts say could be causing long-term corn and soybean yield losses by as much as 20 per cent over seven years on an average field. Due to farming on clay soils and in an area that tends to rain a lot, compaction is “probably our number one yield inhibitor,” said Schneckenburger.
Right now, Schneckenburger has the sprayer on dedicated tracks to reduce compaction throughout the field. If he needs to go off the tracks, he will swap tires off the tractors and the sprayer. He hopes this year to add inflation control, which would allow him to decrease or increase tire pressure from the cab to reduce the pounds per square inch.
Schneckenburger said that many of the changes have lowered the cost of production. For example, switching to strip-till farming from full-on conventional tillage is conservatively saving $40 to $45 an acre, he said.