Farmer Q&A – Sustainability in Planting Season

This is planting season for farmers. Right now, they are spending countless hours in their fields planting crops for the year. In South Dakota, soybean planting usually begins in early May and goes through mid-June, but farmers think about planting for much longer than just when they are out in the fields. To find out more, we sat down with Paul Casper, farmer from Lake Preston.

HFT: When does planting season start?

Paul: For me, it starts as soon as last year’s crop is harvested. Once we see how our crops did, we start planning for the following year. We look at a lot of factors to determine how we can be more efficient, grow a healthier crop and be more profitable the next year.

Paul stands by his sprayer.

HFT: What different factors do you evaluate?

Paul: We look at seed varieties, soil health, pest pressure and nutrient needs. We review when we applied pesticides and fertilizers throughout the year and how much we applied. We think about how we can be more sustainable with our energy inputs. Whatever we can do to cut down on products, fuel, water, time and human energy, it’s going to make us more sustainable.

HFT: Is sustainability a priority for you?

Paul: Sustainability is our number one priority. I’m a fourth-generation farmer, and my son will be the fifth. This land is what and who we are. It is our livelihood. Protecting it from chemicals, water and soil erosion: that’s our job, and it’s one we love. As farmers, protecting the environment is our goal because we want to leave the land in better shape for the next generation.

Paul and the equipment he uses to plant seeds.

HFT: How do you stay sustainable when planting?

Paul: One of the big things we do is mapping. That means we create maps of our fields telling us the soil type, the nutrients available to help the plants grow and crop yields from the year before. In a 150-acre field, we could have four different soil types. Some soil types have more nutrients or hold water better than others. Mapping tells us precisely where and how to use our resources so we know exactly what the crop will need. This lets us use the minimum amount of inputs needed and still be extremely effective.

Technology lets us see those maps in real time from the tractor. As we plant or apply nutrients, our machinery automatically adjusts the rate applied to just the right amount. This reduces impacts on the environment and saves us money. Technology in agriculture has come a long way and helps us improve how sustainable we can be.

Paul with the sprayer and planter he uses during planting season.

HFT: What do you do once your crops have been planted?

Paul: Throughout the year, we want to protect the health of the crop and help the plants grow. We monitor fields for anything that might compromise that, like weeds, insects and diseases. It’s survival of the fittest, so we try to minimize competition for sunlight, nutrients and water. Weed control is so important early in the year. The rest of the summer is spent monitoring our crops and making sure they grow as healthy as can be.

By the end of September, Paul will be back out in the field harvesting his crops, seeing how well his seed varieties performed and farming practices worked. Then it all starts over, making plans for the next planting season.

Paul Casper is a fourth-generation farmer from Lake Preston, South Dakota. He raises 4,800 acres of corn and soybeans with his son, Drew. He and his wife, Korlyn, have four children. He has been a member of the South Dakota Soybean Association board since 2007.

Have questions for Paul? Leave them in the comments below. You can see his planting adventures along with other farmers on social media by following #plant16.