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Producer’s Spotlight: Try and Try Again

March 29th, 2023
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Even when you do everything right, mother nature does not always cooperate and can destroy all of your hard work in less than a season. This can be disheartening, but it doesn’t mean you should give up.

This is the message that Roy Pfaltzgraff, a dryland farmer just outside of Haxtun, Colo., had to share. “We’ve had a particularly rough year between all the different factors of the weather. In talking with some of the older folks who farmed during the depression, that is the only time that was reasonably close to what we have seen this year. It was one of the hottest years anyone can remember, with consecutive days over 105 with 30+ mph winds. The 1/10 inch of rain that we may have received in a day was gone by 9am,” he said.

One of the ways that Roy combats this is by focusing on soil health and crop diversity. He is currently a part of the Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources (STAR) program. He raises corn, dry edible beans, sunflowers, buckwheat, millet and others in any given year, depending on the conditions.

“We are adapting things on our farm to match our climate. A lot of the methods we use and take for granted came from back east, and don’t work as well in our drought climate,” he stated.

Roy explained that he has studied pan evaporation rate in his area which is how much water would evaporate out of a pan over the course of a year, and where he is, that is 72 inches. Where he farms, he only had about 5 inches of rain in a year, whereas normally he has close to 16.

Untreated Seed

“What I have found is, 7 inches of rainfall is about our limit to make some okay crops that are profitable. Anything over 7 inches is great. We are at the worst of the drought now, so I can’t wait to see what things will do with average rainfall. We could have some phenomenal crops,” Roy explained.

He has also moved to using cover crops that have a greater canopy, such as sunflowers, to protect the soil from evaporation. “We started drilling sunflowers 4 years ago. The time is takes them to canopy is super-fast. Sunflowers will canopy 3 weeks faster than planted corn, and doesn’t have to get as big,” he said.

One other item they have shifted to is to move away from treated seed to using untreated seed. “This year, the root system on the untreated seed was much longer. The treated corn died a couple weeks earlier than the untreated corn. Back east, the ground is moist and cool when the seed is planted, which is why they need the treated seed. But why do we need that treatment when we are so dry?” Roy asked.

He is always up for trying new things to improve his soil and isn’t afraid to challenge what is considered normal.

He said, “It’s only a mistake if you repeat it. If you can learn from it, then it’s a lesson. We are doing the best we can for our soils. If we see something we can do better, than we are going to be better.”

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