A farm’s future rests in its soil.
Joshlin Yoder recalls his dad’s wise words that advances in crop technology will only get you so far. A farm’s true potential comes in the quality of the soil that seeds are planted into. When Joshlin and his wife Addie left careers in Alabama and returned to the farm in 2008, they vowed to use conservation practices to make their land productive for their children.
Each growing season they evaluate how to improve their farm with science, data and agricultural practices that improve soil and water quality. The Yoders raise beef cattle and grow 1,100 acres of corn, soybeans and hay. They pool labor and equipment with Joshlin’s father and brother who manage their own farms as well.
Joshlin & Addie Yoder
To prevent soil erosion and reduce compaction from tillage equipment, Joshlin has transitioned to a no-till system on soybean fields, and is experimenting on corn fields. Once skeptical of how cover crops would work on his fields, he now prefers seeding cereal rye into standing corn stalks. Rye’s actively growing root system helps hold soil in place during winter and spring rains, and the added layer of biomass holds moisture during the summer.
The Yoders are participating in a five-year study of 120 Midwest farms conducted by the Soil Health Partnership (SHP). By gathering data from soil testing, weather monitoring and yield comparisons, SHP examines how cover crops impact soil health, crop yields and profitability. In addition to guiding their own decisions, the Yoders hope the results show other farmers the environmental and economic benefits of cover crops.
The Yoders take a long view when it comes to agricultural conservation. That mindset also applies to how they work with the people they rent farmland from. Every acre they farm, whether owned or rented, has been grid sampled by precision ag specialists and agronomists. This helps them incorporate the 4R concept of crop nutrient application (Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, and Right Place) to maximize the efficiency. The Yoders explain the grid’s detailed results and their conservation goals to the owners of the rented land.
In addition to their landlords and fellow farmers, the Yoders have a passion to advocate for agriculture with consumers and legislators. Addie shares their farm’s story through public speaking events, podcasts, radio and social media. As a U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action ambassador and CommonGround volunteer, she has open conversations with non-farm women to bridge the communication gap on food issues and modern farming practices.
One issue of concern to the Yoders is the mental health of farmers. The challenges of farming, including extreme weather, shrinking margins and low commodity prices due to trade policies and the pandemic, can shake any farmer’s faith and take a toll on a marriage. As a certified life coach, Addie encourages Joshlin to maintain a healthy lifestyle, keep a positive outlook, and take time away from the farm.
Just as they do on the land, the Yoders strive to strike the right balance. After all, a farm’s resiliency is not just what’s happening in the soil.