April 4, 2019
By Matt Reese
It is not that books, research and coursework are unimportant for agriculture — they certainly are. The best agronomists, though, are able to combine those book smarts with real lessons learned from hands in the dirt on a working farm.
With nearly 40 years of crop advising service in the Hancock County area, agronomist Don Boehm combines knowledge gained while managing his own farm to best serve the customers he works with as the crop protection manager at Legacy Farmers Cooperative.
Boehm, from Findlay, was recently named the 2019 CCA of the Year by the Ohio Certified Crop Adviser Program at the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference.
“The thing that has been the most rewarding to me is that God has blessed us with the opportunity to farm, so I get to use a lot of these same things I talk about on my own operation. I have learned a lot on my farm to help educate others. It has been a great experience,” Boehm said. “Legacy Farmers Cooperative has been one of the key partners for the 4Rs. We just do a lot of things to be sure we are good stewards. We pride ourselves that with what we do, the ground we work with is better tomorrow than it is today.”
He is currently responsible for weed management recommendations, scouting and implementation strategies for the 4R principles at Legacy, which was among the first facilities certified in the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program. Throughout his career he has been involved with sales, management and direct work with farmers in his role as a CCA, allowing him to implement new technology and practices for farmer customers and on his own farm. Boehm also heads up the Ohio AgriBusiness Association’s agronomy subcommittee and serves on the industry education planning committee.
“Don leads the agronomy employees at Legacy to get their CCAs and follow good recommendations and practices,” said David Wurm, who nominated Boehm for the award. “He practices what he preaches — implementing nitrogen and phosphorus efficiency practices on his own farm.”
Boehm has seen an incredible move toward conservation in his career.
“When I started in 1979 there wasn’t much no-till at all. It was all moldboard plowing when I started. Then it went to chiseling and minimum-till. But it was pretty quickly that we went from full tillage to minimum-till to no-till in the early 80s,” Boehm said. “When they first were doing no-till they were using old planters that were reconfigured to make it work for no-till. Then John Deere was kind of a leader with the no-till drill and guys could actually get a good stand and it made it easier to no-till. The equipment helped bring no-till along. The advent of Roundup Ready beans also helped and the use of proper burndown helped too. These things helped springboard into less tillage. A third component of that is farmers wanting to get bigger. Farming 400 acres just didn’t work anymore to make a living and no-till allowed farmers to grow their operations and still get planted in a timely manner. Everything goes hand in hand. One thing wouldn’t have worked without the other.”
The use of more cover crops has taken conservation another step on Boehm’s farm and on the farms of Legacy members.
“Since we don’t have a lot of wheat here any more, most of our cover crops follow corn or soybeans and there is not a big planting window. That limits us to a lot of cereal rye. If we were in southern Ohio we’d have that extra week or 10 days of growing that would help. I think cover crops make the soil more mellow,” Boehm said. “Where we have cereal rye after corn stalks the following spring, as we go to no-till our beans in there the ground is just mellower. We don’t kill the rye before we plant so our rye might get 3, 4 or 6 feet tall before we plant. That creates a nice mat to help hold moisture and we see multiple benefits. We like to have that trash on top to decompose and build organic matter. It also helps with weed control. A decent stand will help control marestail and other weeds. You still have to manage cover crops though. Sometimes the key is being willing and able to manage them.”
As with other farming practices, Boehm experimented with cover crops on his own farm to help him make better recommendations for others.
“By farming and using these practices myself I can speak from
experience and I’ll tell them if I like something or if I don’t,” he said. “We have seen, every year, the fields we had cereal rye on always yielded better soybeans. We tried it for 3 or 4 years before we started putting cereal rye on everything.”
Because he works within the watershed of the Western Lake Erie Basin, nutrient management has taken on an especially important role in every aspect of Boehm’s career in the last decade.
“When I started, guys would pull one soil sample out of a 40-acre field so they would know if they needed lime. Then over time we started pulling multiple samples from the field and that was better, but there was still no consistency. When we went to grid soil sampling or sampling by soil type that took us to the next level. It allows us to put the nutrients at the right spot. When I first started, guys would put 300 or 400 pounds per acre of fertilizer broadcast per acre. Now it may only average 150 pounds across the field, though there are still spots that may get 300 pounds and there are spots that don’t get any. The amount of fertilizer maybe hasn’t been cut in half, but we are probably using a third less fertilizer because of managing it better,” Boehm said. “If you don’t need any, you don’t put it on. In this day and age farmers don’t put fertilizer on just because. It is too expensive. I don’t think the general public understands that.”
As more research has gone in to the minutia of nutrient management, Boehm has continued to evolve and improve on his farm, and he helps his customers do the same.
“Now the science is telling us phosphorus has to be incorporated and we have two sides pulling different ways because I think no-till is also the right thing to do. How can you no-till and apply phosphates properly to where everyone wins in a best management practice? That is why we went to a strip-till unit. That is a way to maintain most of the benefits of no-till because we are just disturbing a 6-inch strip and we are able to put the nutrients below the surface. To me, that is the right way to do it. Is it the only way? Probably not, but for our own operation we bought a strip-till unit last fall. For the first time we have strip-tilled our nutrients below ground. We are trying to do the things we know are beneficial.”
Boehm has also been able to learn and stay on top of the latest technology and practices through his work with the Legacy research farm.
“We try to stay current and we are always looking ahead to what might work tomorrow. Whether you are a farmer or a retailer you always need to be looking ahead. Work with trusted advisors. Find someone who is knowledgeable and that you feel good working with. You have to have your ear to the ground. Standing still means you’re going backwards. There are a lot of outside sources. Be willing to read and learn and try and go from there,” he said. “That is what I have tried to do. I have been blessed with a great wife, kids, grand kids and a great job. Farming is a special occupation. There is nothing for me that beats working in agriculture.”
As CCA of the Year, Boehm received a plaque and a $1,500 cash award, courtesy of the Ohio Association of Independent Crop Consultants, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and Nutrien. Sponsored by the Ohio CCA Program, the CCA of the Year state award recognizes an individual who is highly motivated, delivers exceptional customer service for farmer clients in nutrient management, soil and water management, integrated pest management, and crop production, and has contributed substantially to the exchange of ideas and the transfer of agronomic knowledge within the agricultural industry in Ohio. Other recent honorees include: John Fritz, The Andersons, Inc.; Timothy Berning, Precision Agri Services, Inc.; Matthew VanTillburg, VanTillburg Farms; and Chuck Gates, Seed Consultants Inc.
“Don represents the very best of Ohio CCAs,” said Logan Haake, chairman of the Ohio CCA board. “We are proud to add his name to the list of CCAs of the Year, as one of our longest serving Ohio CCAs.”