Watch Britt Farms' Inspiring Conservation Story
Technology’s role in agricultural conservation has long intrigued Ryan Britt. When his father, Randy, equipped his combine with a yield monitor to evaluate crop production in the early 1990s, teenage Ryan thought it was a huge step forward for Britt Farms.
Ryan returned home from the University of Missouri in 2000 with more than a degree. Agricultural systems management classes had shown him how technology can maximize efficiency while protecting water and soil. Ryan and his father produce beef cattle, corn, soybeans, wheat and hay in Randolph, Chariton, and Macon counties.
Ryan put his passion for conservation to work as an early adopter of grid-based soil testing and variable rate fertilizer applications. Global positioning system (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS) technologies assisted in applying fertilizer only where it was needed, and at the precise rate. The Britts soon saw precision agriculture’s economic and environmental benefits.
During the next few growing seasons, other conservation techniques were rapidly adopted. Britt Farms transitioned from using conventional tillage to a completely no-till system. Crop rotations and use of cover crops reduce erosion and improve soil health. Cover crops also provide an additional source of forage for their cattle.
The Britts adopted a rotational grazing system for their beef cows. State and federal programs assisted with installing cross-fencing, watering tanks and three miles of water line. Fencing cattle out of streams and ponds reduced soil erosion and protected water quality in the nearby Thomas Hill Reservoir. To minimize nutrient loss and optimize cattle health, the Britts built a covered feeding area with a deep pack barn designed for zero runoff. By utilizing manure as a natural fertilizer, Britt Farms maximizes the efficiency of having cattle and crops.
In addition to creating terraces and grassed waterways, the Britts developed a wetland area for wildlife preservation. To attract beneficial pollinators, they planted native wildflowers in field buffers and in acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.
The Britts host on-farm research on the effects of crop diversity on soil health, and on crop sensors that assess a crop’s nitrogen needs. Measuring the effects of each change guides decision making for their farm and others. The Britts are also reducing their use of commercial fertilizers by taking advantage of biological stimulants to increase use of nutrients already in the soil.
Ryan has an unwavering commitment to improving soil, water and wildlife habitat through conservation. Whether through an active social media presence or board leadership on state and national soil and water conservation district associations, Ryan’s willingness to share his successes and failures with others has directly helped expand conservation on other farms.
Ryan works with his two sisters to preserve the family farm for future generations. One sister direct markets Britt Farms Beef, and a nephew helps precisely apply fertilizers and crop protectants with his Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
Ryan and his wife, Rebecca, believe it is important to teach love and appreciation of the land and its inhabitants to their three children.
“We hope that wherever their passions settle, they will see the value in being a faithful and wise steward of the soil,” says Ryan. “Our intention is to leave the land better than when we found it.”