The Stickel brothers have always been mindful of the value and importance of preserving water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Together, Andy who serves on the Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) board of trustees and his brother Brian represent the third generation to farm the northwest Ohio family’s fields that lie 20 miles south of Toledo. And they’ve learned banding fertilizer is one solution.
“The basin is always on our minds. Our nutrient use is constantly monitored to ensure proper application and effective use,” said Andy Stickel, who added that agriculture is not the only industry contributing to water quality issues. “Agriculture is taking the brunt of regulations, so this is front and center with us. The Toledo suburbs are 10 minutes north of our farm and keep creeping closer, so we have to anticipate potential issues.”
Andy and Brian’s parents, Dale and Mary Elyse, are part of the diversified farm. The family raises corn, soybeans and wheat using primarily no-till and grows processing tomatoes. They also have a commercial cow-calf herd and finish about 400 head of cattle per year in a feedlot. A custom hay and straw business makes up the rest of the enterprise.
“We try to be good stewards. We minimize phosphorus and potassium applications and use nutrients on a field-by-field prescription basis,” Stickel said. “We soil test every two to three years with an agronomist’s help and do variable rate applications based on soil tests and yield history.”
The Stickels band-apply fertilizer in corn and soybeans. They have primarily heavy clay soils and use stabilizers, especially with phosphorus applications. Corn is planted in 30-inch rows between the fertilizer bands and soybeans are planted in 15-inch rows right next to the bands.
“Banding helps our bottom line and our efficiency,” Stickel said. “We are testing cover crops to improve soil health and water quality, too. We fly rye seed over our corn. The following year we plant soybeans, followed by wheat and a summer cover crop.”
The family is stepping up sustainability efforts in the livestock arena. New state legislation regulates fertilizer and manure applications in the basin, but exemptions include injection, incorporation within 24 hours and when applied on a growing crop, including cover crops. Stickel can now haul manure for cover crop use at different times of the year.
For the future, the Stickels are evaluating composting as another option. “We want to keep everything in balance and maintain soil health for maximum water-holding capacity,” he said.
Stickel recommends other farmers take a holistic approach to protect water quality. “Fresh water is a major asset. There are no right or wrong answers to protect it. Be aware of your actions, and tackle sustainability from environmental and economic perspectives,” he said.