Healthy, productive soil is the backbone of any successful farm, so farmers go to great lengths to protect this valuable yet fragile resource. It’s a case where sustainability and business objectives are complimentary.
“Being good stewards of the land and being profitable are not mutually exclusive things,” said Justin K., a farmer who grows wheat that is used in Kellogg’s® Frosted Mini-Wheats® in Frankenmuth, Mich. “We need to take care of the soil to ensure both profitability today and to make sure the farm is here for future generations.”
Two long-practiced methods – crop rotation and cover crops – are key to maintaining both the business health and environmental sustainability of a farm.
Crop rotation is the practice of alternating the crops planted in a specific field in a given year. One season, a farmer may plant wheat, and then switch to sugar beets or corn in subsequent growing periods.
“If you grow the same crop on the same field, year after year, you risk increased disease and insect pressure, and you risk wearing out the soil.” said Justin.
Crop rotation helps by breaking up disease cycles that could affect the same crop year after year. Also, different crops require different amounts of nutrients and the farmer can feed the plants accordingly.
Farmers will often have several different crops growing in different sections of their farm at the same time. This is good for the soil, and it reduces the business impact if a major threat (disease, weather event or insect) was to hit one crop. Additionally, it insulates the farmer if the market prices for one crop were to fall dramatically, and the different planting and harvest times allows farmers to better manage their work loads.
It’s good business, and it’s good for the environment.
In addition to rotating crops, many farmers plant cover crops in their fields before or after their primary crop has been harvested. Cover crops are typically fast growing plants such as clover or rye. It costs money and takes time, but it’s an investment that pays off in both the short-term and long-term health and productivity of the farm.
“We normally always have something growing on our fields to keep the soil healthy, in place, and to increase organic matter,” said Rita H. a farmer from Minden City, Mich. “It protects and revitalizes the field, getting it ready for the next crop.”
Here’s how it works: the roots and leaves of cover crops prevent erosion of valuable top soil from wind and rain. They also absorb nutrients left in the soil after the primary crop is harvested and return the nutrients to the soil when they decompose. And they even help control weeds, and provide an environment for wildlife and beneficial insects.
Kellogg and Farmers
The Kellogg Company is proud to support the farmers that grow the crops used to make Kellogg’s cereal and other products. Farmers such as Rita and Justin participate in the Kellogg’s™ Origins Great Lakes Wheat Project. Through this initiative, Kellogg supports technology and training that helps farmers monitor the performance and sustainability of their farms.
The Bottom Line
Healthy soil is the foundation of naturally healthier fields and bigger yielding harvests. If the soil is properly cared for, the crops will also need less fertilizer and pesticides – all things that are good for the environment and the farmer’s bottom line.
"Caring for the soil and the environment is my job, not just because I'm a farmer but because the future of my farm and my kids depend on it," Rita said. "Healthy soil is what will carry this farm into the next generation."
Rita (left) from Minden City, Mich., and Justin (right) from Frankenmuth, Mich., grow wheat used in Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats.
Click HERE to see a recent story the US Farm Report on AgWeb telling more about how farmers such as Rita and Justin have teamed with Kellogg to promote sustainable farming.