2008 Barton County Bankers Soil Conervation Award--Gerard Axman
As a county Extension agent, field observations and personal visits with Gerard Axman tell me that no-till farming and other conservation measures have added a lot of profit to his farming operation. Axman farms in the area around Otis, Olmitz and Albert.
Gary, as he is known by, is the 2008 Soil Conservation winner as awarded by the banks of Barton County and the Kansas Bankers Association. Gary began farming right out of high school in 1973 and has been farming on his own since 1990. Gary has been no-tilling since 1997. Gary says he got interested in it about 1993 and became educated about it before getting started.
Gary is quick to point out that he learned the importance of conservation from those before him such as his parents and his uncle Ed Demel. He asked his parents why so many terraces were on their land and they talked to him about preventing soil loss and gully erosion. His uncle had put in shelter-belts for cattle protection.
Gary has worked closely with his landlords to improve conservation. He has one quarter section of irrigated land, owned by Lenora Barnes, that was converted from flood to center pivot. The remainder of his crop acres are non-irrigated.
About 85 percent of the land he farms is terraced. In 1991, he bought a road grader to build terraces; he liked going to the 24-foot width as opposed to a 14- to 16-foot width with a traditional farm scraper because it is easier to farm the terraces and will handle the water from a heavy rain easier. Gary comments that most landowners believe in conservation and, when they see increased yields, new landowners are asking him to farm their land. This has not only added to his acres but has convinced some neighboring farmers to switch to no-till.
He describes his cropping practices as 90 percent no-till and 10 percent reduced tillage. Due to extenuating circumstances, he has had to use his fallow master tillage tool a couple of times in recent years, including this fall, to manage the excess crop residue and plant through it.
Like farming in general, no-till is not without its challenges and this year was no exception. He had to do some tillage with his fallow master this fall, in order to reduce excess crop residue caused by strong winds in early November that caused a lot of unharvested corn and milo to fall over in our area. He was able to get a lot of the crop harvested and the yield was still exceptional but there were so many heads and flattened stalks he didn't feel he would be able to plant through them.
This was also a challenging year for wheat. First, the crop was slow to emerge, due to extremely dry conditions in the fall of 2007. Then several hail storms ripped through the northern and western parts of the county causing yield losses. In spite of that fact, overall, he salvaged a decent crop because of no-till moisture savings.
Above normal rainfall in 2008 gave bountiful crops of soybeans, corn and milo--along with good prices. Unfortunately, no-till and weather can be two-edged swords at times, as the extra moisture that fell, coupled with no-till shading the soil, never let the soil dry out enough this fall to plant any wheat. The extra yield on the fall crop and downed milo extended the fall work load which further complicated things.
In spite of all this, the positive benefits in terms of saving on time, labor, equipment, soil moisture, as well as reduced soil erosion from wind and water, far outweigh the problems.
Gary plants corn and soybeans on his irrigated land and has wheat, milo, soybeans and alfalfa on his dryland acres. He has tried sunflowers but feels they are a riskier crop to grow in our area. He feels soybeans are a good clean-up crop with the Roundup Ready technology.
He uses an IH 955 no-till planter with Yetter row cleaners and Martin closer wheels for his row crops and a Crustbuster 25-foot no-till drill with 10-inch spacing for wheat. Another advantage to no-till is that it has expanded his crop rotation and he can make better use of his combine and other machinery by using them more than one time per year, reducing costs per acre.
Several years ago, his parents bought a quarter section of land known as the bindweed quarter. Tillage makes bindweed control difficult because it can out compete the crop when moisture is low and can be spread by implements. Through crop rotation, herbicides and no-till, he got rid of the bindweed and made the land productive.
Beef cattle and range management are another part of Axman's operation. He has 100 cow-calf pairs. About 60 percent of these are calved in the fall and the remaining 40 percent in the spring. He typically grazes the cattle on corn and milo stalks in the fall. He feeds hay in the winter and summers his cattle on native grass pastures. He calves the cows behind a shelter-belt.
Gary is a member of the Golden Belt Residue Management Alliance steering committee. He is also on the Russell rural Water District board and is an active member of the Knights of Columbus at his church, St. Ann's Catholic Church in Olmitz.