Steve Olson by no means deliberate to farm fulltime. The son of a customized harvester, he had intentions of turning into an engineer. In his 20s, his evenings have been consumed with grasp’s courses at West Texas A&M; his days, which started at 3 a.m., have been spent on the tractor.
“I enjoyed it,” he stated of his day gig. “I thought, I can do this part time while I’m finishing up school.” He completed faculty, however by no means left the farm. That was practically 30 years in the past.
Steve Olson, Hale County, Texas (Photograph by Shelley E. Huguley)
Immediately, Olson and his spouse Cindy farm in Hale County, Texas. All their land, which spans about a 30-mile radius, is rented and owned by 15 totally different landowners. Crop rotation and lowered tillage are key to his land administration.
Olson rotates cotton, seed milo and millet, common milo, sunflowers, corn, and wheat and runs cattle. “Everything we do, we’re trying to build a healthier soil.”
Second of Change
Olson will inform you farming has been good to him and his household however he confronted a turning level in his profession when he and Cindy obtained an order from Manufacturing Credit score Affiliation to liquidate property. “I was broke,” he says. “I knew I could not keep farming the way we were doing it.”
His first step? “Pray,” he says. “Then we tried no-till, even before Roundup Ready cotton.”
Olson credit a person named John F. Bradley, from the College of Tennessee, for mentoring him. Bradley was one among a number of researchers who printed the 1995 report, “Conservation-Tillage Systems for Cotton” -— a report Olson nonetheless has at present
At first, Olson used the report as a information however finally contacted Bradley by telephone and then in 1998, met him in individual on the Beltwide Cotton Conferences. “I do not even know the way I discovered him, however each phrase that got here out of his mouth I used to be tied to it.
“Bradley became a good friend. He was trying to help me do this no-till stuff, but we struggled with weed control because our soil wasn’t ready for no-till.” However Olson may see the associated fee financial savings. “That made me believe there was something to this.”
Olson then discovered of strip-tillage and the Orthman 1tRIPr. “I visited with our local Orthman dealer and told him I wanted one of those planters. He said, ‘That won’t work here. Our soils just aren’t right for it.’ So, I went to the Oklahoma Panhandle and bought a two-year-old (one-tripper) strip-till machine and low-and-behold it did work.”
Quickly after, he bought a brand new 1tRIPr with a particular settlement to not solely decide it up from the manufacturing unit and however have 39 minutes with Orthman’s Soil Specialist Mike Petersen. “That meeting sparked a lifelong friendship and developed into a soil health mentorship,” Olson says.
To find out if his fields had a hardpan, Olson caught a wire, the type with a flag hooked up to the highest, into the bottom. “I’d feel for the hardpan and if it didn’t have it, I would no-till, and if it did have it, we’d run this one-tripper, which helped me figure out how deep to set the thing.”
“If you take care of what’s below the ground, it will take care of what’s above the ground.” (Photograph by Shelley E. Huguley)
Whereas attending a no-till convention in Kansas, Olson discovered a Dicky-John soil compaction tester with a gauge on it. “It’s been amazing because you can understand more how hard that pan really is or if it’s not.”
The important thing, he says, is doing a minimal quantity of tillage however, “still making sure you’ve got an amazing root system. If you take care of what’s below the ground, it will take care of what’s above the ground.”
Olson refers to his tillage practices as smart-till, “because we are going to figure for each field what it needs and cater to that. If it needs to be plowed, we’ll plow it. I think guys get married to either plowing or not or married to strip-till. It’s not that kind of deal because every field is going to be different.”
No-till planter (Photograph by Shelley E. Huguley)
A widespread thread throughout his acres is a lack of constant annual rainfall and availability of irrigation water from the Ogalala Aquifer, a non-replenishing water supply.
“I think water is the biggest issue we’ve got to figure out,” Olson says.
This yr, Olson has greater than 300 acres of oil-type sunflowers. He initially planted one discipline in cotton and rotated to seed millet. However after 2, 4-D drift broken his crop, he went again with sunflowers July 14.
“I’ve got a lot of seed crop this time, seed milo,” Olson says. “That (damaged) seed was going to be seed millet, a high value crop, so it was a big blow.”
The sunflower seeds, which shall be crushed for oil, are contracted by means of Pink River in Lubbock. Cindy says it was a blessing to discover a contract this late within the season. “Steve figured he (Mike Williams) didn’t have room for any more and sure enough, Mike was so excited to have more,” she says. “That’s how God works.”
(Photograph by Shelley E. Huguley)
The sunflowers have been no-tilled due to the delicate soil from earlier tillage and not watered till the top of September. “We’ve had enough rain that this is actually the first irrigation we’ve had to put on them,” Steve says. “We’ve had some wonderful, timely rains,” Cindy provides.
The Olson’s different sunflower discipline was planted on the finish of July. “These were planted a week later than the others and have had no irrigation,” Olson says. “As soon as we finish this pass on the corn, we’ll come across the sunflowers.”
Beforehand the discipline had been in wheat. “We plant the wheat in September and the cattle come the last of October, beginning of November. We run them until the first of March and then pull them off. Then, if it’s been dry, we start watering. If it’s not, as it’s harvested, we no-till into it,” Olson says.
“You can see the manure here,” he says as he factors. “The manure is a huge benefit. The cattle may cost you water and fence, but they don’t cost you anything as far as crop because you are putting them on, letting them do their thing and then pulling them off early, so you’ve got time to make that wheat.”
However the extended drought on the Texas Plains made this a powerful yr for wheat. “Everything had to be irrigated. You know how dry it was,” he says. “It was completely dry here until it started raining in June.”
Olson kneels between the sunflower rows and factors on the soil. “These two marks here are where we ran our fertilizer coulters. We run LEPA (low energy precision application) on our pivots, so we only fertilize that LEPA row.” He factors to the adjoining empty row. “That row won’t get any because normally you won’t have a lot of roots there.”
The place Olson ran the fertilizer coulters. (Photograph by Shelley E. Huguley)
He then notes the delicate floor. “I really believe less plowing is softening the ground. It’s completely backwards from what everybody’s granddad and dad told them. But my real thought on this water deal is that soil health is going to save us, where we can use every single drop from either irrigation or rain.”
The sunflowers shall be harvested on the finish of October after which planted to wheat after which cotton. However Olson will not graze this wheat however “try to get some size on it for the cotton.”
Adjoining to the sunflowers is a half-circle of corn. “We had cotton on this last year. We just moved over a little bit and no-tilled into it.”
Olson kneels as soon as once more, pointing at tiny clods. They don’t seem to be dust, however worm casting or poop. “If we had a shovel, you’d be surprised how many earthworms we have here,” he says. He pulls the soil again along with his palms. “Look at all the different species of bugs in here. You want all the life in the soil you can get.”
Olson additionally produces dryland sorghum. “This field was laid out last year. It was going to be cotton, but it was so dry the cotton never did anything. We planted it to wheat in the fall and then killed the wheat and planted.”
He additionally grows white seed sorghum for Espresso Seed in Plainview. “I thought it was going to be a wreck because it turned off so dry, but I think we are going to have a harvest.”