• Peterson, aided by his two sons, Nathaniel, 27, and Nicholas, 25, uses sophisticated planting, spraying and harvesting equipment, including a $350,000 combine with a $150,000 harvesting head and three tractors, all by John Deere, that he buys new and trades in every year. “I’ve rotated combines like that since the late 1970s,’’ he said. “It cuts my maintenance and overall equipment costs.’’ Each machine can drive itself down mile-long fields, varying its course, year after year, by no more than 3 inches. Similarly, sprayers are computer controlled so fertilizer, pesticides and other chemicals aren’t over-applied. “Everything we do on our combine and tractors is recorded on a computer chip, which we can bring into the house and use to print out color maps showing crop yield variations and other information. Using this, we can vary the amount of fertilizer, for example, that we apply to different parts of the field, depending on its natural fertility and other factors.’’
• Peterson farms sandy loam soil with an organic content of about 1 percent. The best, black “corn belt’’ soil might hold 5 percent organic content, which can provide a significant yield advantage. Peterson averages 140-160 bushels of corn per acre and 45-50 bushels per acre of soybeans. “In the best soils, they’ll get to 200 bushels of corn,’’ he said.
• “I pay attention to conservation when I farm,’’ Peterson said. “It’s not my determining factor. But one of my life goals is not to hurt the soils or the groundwater. I’m constantly asking, ‘How can we get more production out of the land and not hurt the land or water?’ The timely placement, and the depth of placement, of fertilizer is one way. I see these guys putting nitrogen on their fields in the fall and I don’t understand it. Apply it at the right time and it won’t wash away and be in the Gulf of Mexico when you need it.’’
• Peterson has never enrolled an acre in the Conservation Reserve Program because his land is too productive. Instead, by practicing no-till planting, crop spacing and rotation, and by “spoon-feeding’’ fertilizer and other chemicals, his conservation efforts focus on minimizing runoff and saving soil while, he says, not adversely affecting ground and surface water. He proudly points to runoff data being collected on his and 16 other farms by the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center showing his relatively minimal runoff being “the cleanest of all,’’ adding, “In big part, it’s thanks to no-till.’’
• Peterson also practices conservation by leaving a 32-acre woodlot on his property that is surrounded by crops. “It would be very easy to just cut that area and farm straight through the field, but to me that would be an absolute sin,’’ he said.
Upshot: Land and water used and affected by Peterson and his family are in good hands.
Editor’s note: Know of a farm Dennis Anderson can visit and write about, focusing on its conservation practices? Write firstname.lastname@example.org.