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Nestled in Northwest Ohio, Bair Farms takes pride in managing their largest asset, their farm. Nate Bair, his father Neil, and brother Ryan, farm corn, soybeans and wheat and raise cattle in Wyandot County, Ohio. For them, stewardship means active conservation management of their asset. “I think we are in a similar situation to most of the farmers in the U.S. in that our land is our largest asset. And so, the best way to manage our assets is to manage our land,” says Nate.
Five years ago, Bair Farms committed to use cover crops on their entire farm. They later expanded their on-farm stewardship and converted their farm to no-till. When asked why they made such a change, Nate explained, “Why would we want to keep losing organic matter from our soils rather than building it? If somebody had a mutual fund with a negative return, I don’t think too many people would keep their money in it. We view our land similarly…why would you want your investment to be devaluing?”
After witnessing organic levels drop on their farm and knowing it takes hundreds of years to build an inch of top soil naturally, Bair Farms decided it was time to make a change. Nate and his family decided to transition their farm to no-till because they felt no-till would provide the greatest positive impact on soil health. Having no-tilled for 3 years, Bair Farms are beginning to see the impact of their investment. They have seen organic matter increase nearly a full percent and are able to better manage their time.
Bair’s cover crop strategy is also driving positive change for their operation, particularly as it relates to water filtration. Nate explains, “It doesn’t seem like we will have as much ponding as some of our neighboring fields,” and that even in drought conditions there is a visual difference between his fields and his neighbors, “a lot of the neighboring field’s corn [were] firing up and ours stayed dark green.” In the middle of August, Bair Farms still had an inch and half or more of moisture left to mitigate the lack of rains they were seeing. Bair farms is also seeing a decrease in their weed pressure by applying cover crops. Nate has found that “cereal rye is a pretty good intro-level cover crop. It is easier to manage and control, and you have pretty good success with the emergence.”
Neil states, “We try to be as conservation-minded as we can while still making dollars and cents of everything. It seems like it all works hand in hand.” Bair Farms participates in a program called Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds, where they place buffers around the perimeter of their fields to build a habitat for quail and other wildlife. The program is a “win-win for both of us” because instead of losing money on those acres, they are getting paid to leave as buffers for quail and wildlife. Neil states, “We thought it was a good opportunity to promote economic use of the ground, wildlife, and also conserve some of the more erodible soils.”
Bair Farms stewardship journey doesn’t end here though, they continue to look for other ways to improve their stewardship and ROI. They want to continue to focus on improving soil health in order to adapt to the ever-changing weather conditions all farmers are facing today. Their goal is to be nimble and mitigate mother nature as much as possible therefore, “if we get an inch of rain, maybe we’re not out a week and a half because the water infiltrates the soil so much” and vice versa in a drought.
Nate admits, “There have been some headaches, there is a learning curve to it all. We try to talk to as many different no-till farmers as we can and as many different cover crop farmers as we can.” But concludes with, “so get yourself a good peer group. If you work together, you can get to where you want to be- not just on a single farm, but across a county, state and the country.”
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