4Rs Improve Soil, Crops; Decrease Need for Irrigation

Grower: Brian Herbek, W&J Farms, Inc., Deweese, NE Crop Advisor: Bill Nejezchleb, Fairfield Non Stock Coop, Fairfield, NE

Brian Herbek is a fifth-generation farmer, who along with his wife, Blythe, grow alfalfa, corn, soybeans, and wheat on 1,900 acres near Deweese, Nebraska. For 20 years, they’ve continually improved operations on W&J Farms. The last 16 of them have included the help of their ag retailer, Bill Nejezchleb, with Fairfield Non Stock Coop in Fairfield. Situated above the Ogallala Aquifer, the Herbeks, and their community, appreciate the benefits 4R practices provide.

Herbek moved to 100 percent strip till 11 years ago and is now in his fourth year of using a SoilWarrior in a two-pass system. This is a great tool for applying nutrients in the right place within the root zone. He also utilizes his center pivots for fertigation, allowing him another way to accomplish application to the right place.

Using the strip till machine, he deep tills in the fall to place non-leachable trace nutrients in the row and leaves as much residue as possible in the zones to prevent washouts. In the spring, he applies urea in the zone at four inches deep. And, a Y-drop system helps get nitrogen in the root zone again 10 days to two weeks before tasseling. This system is a major progression from the one-time ammonia application he used to practice.

Following the University of Nebraska – Lincoln guidelines, analyzing grid soil and tissue samples, harvest data and Nejezchleb’s product expertise, have allowed the team to increase nitrogen efficiency to 0.8 lb/bu to 0.9 lb/bu, from the initial 1.1 lb/bu efficiency. In season soil sampling indicates that they are now using all the applied nitrogen. These tools also allow Herbek and Nejezchleb to formulate a nutrient plan and VRT prescription for the following year. And it’s working. Herbek is getting 300 bu/ac using the same level of nutrients that delivered 200 bu/ac when he started implementing the 4Rs.

The Herbeks have been honored to share the 4R program with several neighbors and fellow farmers in conversation and application. By doing custom strip till for others, it has shown them the potential for their own farms. The Herbeks know that sharing the 4Rs will not only result in better practices, but also protect farming as a way of life.

Best Practice Management

  • Soil sampling data is the foundation for the 4R nutrient management plan.
  • In-season soil and tissue testing results improve the plan.
  • VRT nutrient application helps place nutrients where they belong.
  • Strip tilling applies nutrients in the right place at the right time.
  • Satellite imagery collects and stores data and makes it easy to compare year-to-year results.
  • Cover crops help improve soil health.
  • Controlled waterways and other runoff prevention mechanisms help reduce soil loss.
  • Increasing wildlife populations demonstrate improving habitats.