Quality matters to the Tom and Beth Kearns family of TomBeth Farms of Seneca, WI. Their homegrown feeds support a herd of 125-head of high quality cattle (seven newly scored Excellents among their registered Holstein cows raised the herd total to over twenty; one-third of their cattle are descended from Tom-Beth Jolt Erin, a 14 year old cow scored EX-94 with a 95-scored udder and over 300,000 lbs of lifetime production). And the quality of their crops was recently recognized when the TomBeth Farms entry was named winner of the World Dairy Expo 2013 Quality Counts Award* for corn silage.
“High in sugar, high in starch, high in digestibility,” is Tom’s definition of a quality corn silage, with soil fertility and hybrid selection key factors. He had submitted entries to the Dairy Expo contest in previous years and was delighted when he learned the farm’s entry was named a finalist this year. The family was “very surprised” to be chosen the winner from among the entries from all around the country. (Incidentally, the winning entry was grown in the drought season of 2012, as entries have to be submitted for testing by Aug. 15.) The sample, a Master’s Choice 515 white cob, soft kernel corn with milk production genetics, was grown with MBA’s 10-9-10 starter on fields that have been biologically farmed for 16 years.
Long before the farm magazines’ recent ‘discovery’ of biological farming concepts like cover crops, nutrients beyond NPK, and soil health, TomBeth Farms was using them to produce quality feeds. They started with Midwestern BioAg back in 1997, shortly after moving from Pennsylvania to the rugged Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin’s Crawford County. A neighbor told them about MBA and invited Tom to attend a meeting with him, to hear speaker Gary Zimmer. What he heard that day held immediate appeal— Tom got his soil tested and began using MBA products, corn starter first, then Bio-Cal®.
“Tom’s goal is to get all the feeds to that same quality point, get everything lined up together.”
The fertility program at TomBeth Farms emphasizes healthy soils, and starts with calcium, “one of the backbones of the fertility program,” notes Tom. Bio-Cal®, gypsum and/or high calcium lime are applied, along with addressing sulfur and boron. Crop production keys are balanced fertility, a short rotation, good organic matter levels, manure applications, and a starter fertilizer. They use urea and ammonium sulfate, and no anhydrous on the farms’ clay-based soils which have good CECs and a pH around neutral.Rotations are basic and kept short: two years corn followed by three years in hay which is a grass/alfalfa mix– “We’ve always had a little grass with alfalfa,” notes Tom. Sometimes they’ll insert a year of soybeans or an alternative crop such as forage oats or sudan grass.
Cover crops are added into the rotation following silage corn and soybeans—triticale or rye after chopping silage, with harvest in the spring or plow down as a green manure crop. Bean ground gets rye or triticale. Tom sees a number of benefits from cover crops: building soil fertility and organic matter, increasing biological activity, and preventing erosion on the Kearns’ hilly ground.
Tom’s goal is “to get all the feeds to that same quality point, get everything lined up together.” And what does Midwestern BioAg bring to TomBeth Farms? “Education, a different way of looking at things, and new ideas to try,” says Tom.
*Dairy Expo corn silage samples are judged on lab analysis (60%), visual judging (30%), and calculated milk per ton (10%). The finalists for the Quality Counts Corn Silage award were then further tested using total tract digestibility, a type of in vitro testing.