Keith Gorham made the move to regenerative agriculture seven years ago, and the Illinois farmer wishes he had done it long before that.
“We grow corn and beans integrated with wheat and rye. We are transitioning everything to regenerative farming,” Gorham says.
The transition began in 2016, shortly after Gorham’s son Blaine got out of college and came home to the farm, located near the Mississippi River in western Illinois.
“It was really his idea to try this, and once we started it sort of took off from there,” Gorham says. “I really wish I had done it 20 years ago.”
One of the keys in making the transition was finding a market for the small grains. Gorham has a cow herd and raises pigs out doors, so he could use some of the grain himself, but he needed to find another market.
“We have an elevator about an hour or so away from us that will take our wheat,” Gorham says. “I would love to grow more oats, but we haven’t been able to find a market for that yet.”
Gorham farms 500 acres, and he says since the transition, his machinery shed is less full. They almost exclusively use a no-till drill as their primary piece of equipment.
“We have really cut down on horsepower on our farm,” Gorham says.
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Interest in small grains is growing, says Rebecca Clay, field crops viability coordinator for Practical Farmers of Iowa. She says a lot of that growth is coming because of increased demand from the livestock industry.
“We have a cost-share program for small grains, and the majority is still going toward cover crop seed production, but our second-biggest demand is from livestock industry,” Clay says.
She says grains such as wheat, oats and hybrid rye are fed to hogs, adding she would like to see some of the larger hog producers become interested in small grains.
Clay says most of the interest is in wheat, oats, rye and triticale.
“I would advise them not to grow something they do not have a market for already,” she says. “If they need help, we’re happy to connect them with someone who might be a potential market.”
Clay says there could be a financial benefit with small grain production as well. She says seed is less expensive than corn and soybeans, adding additional income can be obtained through the sale of straw.
She says yields of soybeans and corn are stronger when they are part of a three-way rotation with a small grain.
Gorham says he looked into other small grains and has done some work already with barley. He generally holds a field day annually and works closely with PFI when it comes to research and production.
“I’m a big proponent of relay cropping,” Gorham says. “If you are double cropping soybeans behind small grains it really works well.
“I would encourage everybody to try it. It helps get your costs down, even with some yield drag on corn. We have found yields on beans are just the same as they are with conventional production.”