By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Dave Nelson looks at on-farm conservation practices as voluntary, not optional.
"If you think about it right now, it is kind of voluntary. Nobody is telling you to do it, but if you don't do it, it won't be optional anymore," he said.
Nelson will be the keynote speaker at Tuesday's seventh annual Residue Management Conference near Carthage, drawing on his and his dad's experience with conservation practices used on the roughly 4,000 acres they farm near Fort Dodge, Iowa, and countering concerns that the practices take too much time or don't have a payoff.
"We're an example of efficiencies it can bring, net income it can bring a large farming operation," Nelson said. "We've taken a very conservative approach. I'm coming to share what works for us, what we have to do to make it work."
The Nelsons use strip till on three-quarters of their acreage. They plant cover crops and use more conservation practices "than the norm" in raising corn and soybeans.
One key for every farm, Nelson said, is reduced tillage -- whether notill, strip till or ridge till.
"I still use conventional tillage on certain fields, and what makes sense on certain fields is to use strip till or notill," he said. "Choose by field the most appropriate practices for that topography, soil type, fertility, management."
Nelson considers himself the "opening act" for the conference, which features speakers and breakout sessions throughout the day.
"I'm going to share principles, practices, reality," he said. "The rest of the day, they'll hear data."
Kristin Huls, one of the conference organizers, said several speakers use residue and nutrient management practices on their farms and can share firsthand experience.
"It's a networking opportunity to talk to other producers who do practice these crop management techniques," said Huls, manager of the Hancock County Farm Bureau. "Our hope is they can take home at least one technique or pick up one little tool they can incorporate into their own operation."
This year's conference focuses on four topics -- residue management, nutrient management, conservation and cover crops. Breakout session topics include cover crops and aerial seeding and spraying methods, what cover crops and seeding methods are available and Conservation Stewardship Program.
It's a format change for the conference to offer educational sessions, panel discussions and vendor exhibits instead of a typical field day.
"We felt it was time to take it up a notch to provide networking opportunities and the educational component we were missing a little bit with the field demonstrations," Huls said.
Numbers alone reinforce Nelson's commitment to conservation.
"In north-central Iowa, when the prairie grasses were broke to farm back in the mid-1800s, there were 15 inches of topsoil. We're down to about five. It's taken us 150 years to lose 10 inches of topsoil," he said. "Everybody talks about what's left for your kids or grandkids. My great-grandfather could say there would be plenty left. You could make a (case) my grandkids could be in trouble -- and not just my grandkids."
With farmers responsible for feeding the world, "we've got major decisions in front of us," Nelson said. "If we don't voluntarily do what makes sense for the farm, it will be EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the government making decisions for us."
The seventh annual Hancock County Residue Management Conference will be held 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Tuesday at Sullivan and Son Auction and Events Center, 1995 E. County Road 650, eight miles south of Carthage.
The free conference offers educational sessions, panel discussions and vendor exhibits.
Program sponsors are Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District, Hancock County Farm Service Agency, Hancock County Farm Bureau and University of Illinois Extension.
Complimentary morning refreshments and a butterfly pork chop lunch meal will be served.
More information is available by calling the Hancock County SWCD office at 217-357-2180, ext. 3, and online on Facebook at 7th annual residue management conference.