Needing more hay for his beef cattle, northwestern Illinois beef producer Randy Adolph was ready for a different approach. “I wasn’t happy with what I was currently doing and wanted to try something new,” said Randy.
Four years later, he’s a lot happier with his fields — his alfalfa yields are up to 7 tons from the 5 he was getting back in 2012.
That was when he learned about Bio-Cal® from his cousin, Midwestern BioAg Certified Crop Advisor Ben Adolph. Over the past four years, Ben and Randy have worked hard to improve Randy’s yields and soils. Today, Randy uses the full Midwestern BioAg fertility program.
“When it comes to the crops, I let Ben make the decisions. As long as he can support the reasoning behind his recommendations, we go with it,” said Randy. “I set the budget and yield goals, and let him make the recommendations from there.”
Randy’s 2,800 acres touch three northwestern Illinois counties. Soil and land types vary greatly — a challenge Ben addresses with fertilizer blends designed specifically for each soil type. “In the past four years, we’ve seen a huge improvement in his soil structure,” remarked Ben. “Randy’s field-to-field variability is incredibly high. After looking at his soil tests, it was clear his fields needed a certain approach that they weren’t getting.”
“With BioAg products, I’m getting a higher return in the end,” said Randy. “They are better for the soil, better for the environment and better for my bottom line.”
“Randy’s crop health and yields have really improved,” said Ben. “Randy’s ground had a lot of fertility, but nutrients were tied-up in the soil. Applying calcium helped improve plant uptake of other nutrients. We attribute a lot of the success seen on his farm to Bio-Cal.”
Cover Crop Forages
With crop yields on the rise, Randy has more time to focus his attention on his herd of 550 Red Angus and Red Angus Commercial beef cattle. That includes incorporating cover crops into his rotation as a grazing crop. “We plant late-season cover crops following wheat in July,” said Randy. “Once established, it provides at least an additional month of grazing in the fall.”
“Randy is saving money with his cover crop program,” said Ben. “We purchase and spread the seed for less than $2,000. He is saving multiple times that by grazing his bred heifers on that ground, since they would otherwise be eating hay.”
Last year’s grazing mix included turnip, rape, clover and millet. “When certain grasses freeze, they can accumulate prussic acid. We avoid those grass varieties so the cattle can graze later into the season,” said Ben.
After the fall grazing season is over, Randy applies manure and chisel plows to help fight soil compaction from late fall grazing. “You couldn’t raise a crop the next year if you didn’t,” said Randy.
Crops & Fertilizer
“Our crop rotations depend on field and soil type. We don’t typically do more than two years of corn in one field,” said Randy. “Both soybeans and wheat are one-year rotations.” Alfalfa stands stay in production for about four to six years.
Randy uses a maximum of 160 units of purchased nitrogen per year. “Dry fertilizer application rates range from 12 to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre, depending on the crop,” said Ben.
Randy typically bulk spreads his fertilizer, but has recently started using variable rate technology (VRT). “We are integrating more technology, and have started working with the NRCS to develop a nutrient management plan,” said Randy.
“Our goal is to produce as high of yields as we can, profitably,” said Ben. “We focus on margins first. Midwestern BioAg’s fertilizer blends help keep nutrients in the field all season. Nutrient loss erodes profits, so limiting it is key.”
Improving Forage Quality & Yield
“I started using Bio-Cal in my fields with the goal to reduce total acres in hay without lowering tonnage,” said Randy. “So far, we’ve seen an increase from 5 to 7 tons per acre. I can see our end goal coming, but it’s just going to take some time.”
“We apply Bio-Cal to Randy’s hay ground regularly. Any fields that Randy uses for fall grazing receive Bio-Cal to help loosen the soil and prevent compaction the following season. Row-crop acres receive Bio-Cal as needed — about every three years,” said Ben.
“Since using Bio-Cal, my hay quality is better,” said Randy. Randy’s forages are more mineralized, helping keep his beef herd healthy and productive.
Randy’s neighbors have noticed. “My neighbor baled some of my third crop hay for me last year,” said Randy. “He said he didn’t know what I did to my fields, but it was the best hay he’s ever mowed.”
“So far, we’ve seen an increase from 5 to 7 tons per acre. I can see our end goal coming, but it’s just going to take some time.”
Randy has produced some of the best crops he’s ever had in the past few years. “Our corn yields have gone up each year since using BioAg,” said Randy. “If you get a 150-bushel average in our area, you better take it. We have a lot of rock, clay and hills. Our average yield last year was 190 bushels per acre, despite the really wet weather we had in Illinois.”
Randy’s yields are up and he has the mapping records to prove it. “I’ve seen the benefits,” said Randy. “My bottom line has improved because of my yield boosts. If I can see a profit in my bottom line, that’s all that matters.”
If there’s one thing Randy has learned throughout this process, it’s to be open to suggestions and be open to change.
“I’ve had neighbors doing the same thing for 20 years, and they cannot figure out why they aren’t seeing changes,” said Randy. “Sometimes you have to mix things up a little.”
“Randy’s farm has improved significantly in two key areas: nutrient management and soil structure,” said Ben. “Those are the two major components to our success.”