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Alan Mindemann

 Alan Mindemann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long-term approach to soil health yields profit, satisfaction for Oklahoma farmer

When an early frost killed his 290-acre crop of cereal rye last year, Alan Mindemann could have sold the remaining forage for more than $220 an acre. Instead, he opted to forego an immediate payout for a better one.

He invested in the soil—leaving the crop’s residue intact to add organic matter and to protect his business’ most important asset. And while that decision may have left many scratching their heads, Mr. Mindemann knew the decision would pay off in the long term, in better nutrient-use efficiency, soil function and ultimately, higher yields.

That long-term approach to farming and soil health is at the center of the 53-year-old Caddo County farmer’s successful operation. 

“My business profitability turned around when I stopped thinking one-year-at-a-time, and started thinking about the long-term,” he says. That long-term approach is rooted in the health of his soil.

“If you abuse your soil, you abuse your bottom line,” Mr. Mindemann says. “The basis of my whole business is the soil.  If I don’t take care of it, if I don’t do the best job I can promoting good soil health, then my bottom line will suffer because the healthier my soil is, the better my crops are,” he says.

To improve the health of his soil, Mr. Mindemann uses diverse crops and rotations, cover crops and he doesn’t till.

“We do everything continuous no-till. We never till anything. We have been continuous no-till for 19 years and try and maintain a high residue system in all of our fields. Of course no tillage is first and foremost,” he says.

“It was in about 2005 when we started using covers as a means of building residue and building fertility back,” he says. “When we started doing that the crops afterward started showing much better results with the moisture that was there and with the fertility that was there. We started getting much higher yields. We became much more efficient in water use and fertility use and that is where we saw the first inklings of soil health, soil biology that was acting on a crop.”

But Mr. Mindemann says building soil health, and harvesting the rewards of improving soil health, is a long-term effort—an effort that can be compromised if landowners take a short-term leasing approach with their soil health farmers.

He says it’s important that landowners understand the expense incurred to make their land better and to make their land more valuable. Without long-term leases, Mr. Mindemann says, “There is very little incentive because a farmer may not get the lease back.”

But for those landowners who see their soil—and not just their land—as the focus of their investment, the rewards can be substantial and sustainable, even in periods of drought and other weather extremes.

“We have had intermittent drought for years now. And we have always managed to grow good crops somewhere in between because our choices of crops are so wide and we have such a long growing season.  We can take advantage of whatever moisture we get,” Mr. Mindemann says.