Our Central Illinois farm operation includes corn, soybeans and wheat; as well as a cow-calf cattle operation. At Nation Farms, we take a “hands on” approach to all aspects of our operation. We own and operate all equipment necessary to nurture the seed from the planter to the elevator.
The majority of time is spent planning and producing corn and soybeans, as they are the major source of farm income. Wheat is included in the crop rotation on sloping land with potential soil erosion. Starting in 2007, yields goals for corn and soybeans were developed using digital soil maps, GPS soil fertility maps, and previous GPS recorded yield history maps. The yield goals and soil fertility levels determine the seed population and amount of nitrogen and other fertilizer applied. We currently use Mapshots® desktop computer software to write the product prescriptions and Trimble® and John Deere® tractor displays to automatically apply GPS -referenced variable rates across the field. Our soil is highly productive, but requires high management to maintain the proper balance of soil nutrients to get maximum economic yield. We are currently experimenting with different sources and timing of nitrogen in our corn-on-corn rotation to determine the highest yield possible, with the lowest input cost.
The land in Central Illinois ranges from very flat to rolling hills around major creeks and rivers. Part of our farm borders the Sangamon River and as such, some of the land has steep hills that are unsuitable for crops. This land is pasture and provides a home for our cow-calf herd. Our all-natural Angus-Hereford cows, calve in March and April and most of the calves are sold in the fall to local farmers. A few calves are kept on our farm to provide beef for our family and friends. These calves are fed grass ,hay, and corn (no growth hormones) to slowly grow into mature beef cattle. They are taken to market when they reach 1,200 lbs. Our cows are fed grass hay and a small amount of cracked corn after they calve in order to meet the extra nutritional needs of the growing calf. We follow a regular vaccination schedule and only use antibiotics when the life of the animal is in danger. Our goal is to raise natural beef for our farm family, friends and neighbors.
Every farm and farm owner is unique and is treated with equal importance. Our relationships with landowners include individuals, investors, retired farmers and farm managers, some dating back over 50 years when Kenneth Nation began farming in 1957. The average tenure for our farm owner is approximately 24 years, with our newest farm added in 2010. Our family is proud of the long-term relationships with our landowners. We work hard to find new ways to bring value to their land.
We work with many different types of leases including share, fixed (cash) and some that are a variation of both. Every situation is different, and the lease is tailored to fit the farm and farm owner. We want to lease terms that provide good return for the farm owner and tenant, and maintain or increase the productivity of the farm. To accomplish this, we complete timely tillage and harvest activities and provide no cost GPS chemical and fertilizer applications. We also make available our market advisor reports for crops and supplies. The yearly farming activities are documented in an annual farm report that includes maps of chemicals, fertilizer, seed and yield of each crop.
The land we farm in Christian and surrounding counties of Central Illinois ranges from very flat to rolling hills around major creeks and rivers. We use reduced tillage on the majority of our farmland and no-till on 5-10% of our highly erodible, tillable acres. The natural and man-made ditches have grass waterways and borders to reduce erosion and capture possible chemical or fertilizer leachate in the water and soil run-off. Typical tillage operations following corn include deep tillage with mulch-type ripper to cut and bury corn stalk residue, followed by one spring operation with a field cultivator prior to planting corn or soybeans.
Farm machinery is an investment necessary to plant, grow and harvest crops in the short weather "window of opportunity". We have modern equipment that is efficient and reliable. The efficiency of the machinery comes from technology built into modern farm machinery. Fuel efficiency is improved due to cleaner-burning engines that produce less emissions. Time efficiency comes from GPS guidance and controls. Our tractors and application equipment have Auto Steer and Section Controls that eliminate costly overlaps and over-applications. These automatic machinery managements reduce operator stress and provide cost savings. Our mellow soils are very susceptible to compaction, so type and timing of tillage is crucial to prevent compaction that slows the growth of crop roots. In 2008, we switched to tracked tillage tractors to eliminate as much compaction as possible. It is better for the soil and costs less to avoid compaction rather than repair after it happens. Some degree of soil compaction occurs every year from necessary field operations, but we continue to evaluate the sources and reduce where possible.
It is crucial to have machinery that is capable to perform all farm operations in a timely manner. The planting date of corn is especially critical, so we have machinery capacity to plant our corn crop in 5-7 days. Many times there are only 10-14 weather-suitable working days during the optimum corn planting window of April 15th to May 25th. While soybean planting date is less critical, we also have the capacity to plant our soybean crop in the same 5-7 day window. Harvest is a much more involved process, but we are able to harvest corn and soybeans in 30 to 45 working days during September and October.
Along with the tillage and harvesting equipment, our chemical and fertilizer application equipment is sized to perform timely applications. Owning our application equipment gives confidence the proper amount of nutrients are applied at the proper time. We provide free variable rate applications to our share and fixed rent landowners. Cost savings from buying bulk fertilizer and chemicals are also shared with landowners.
Please check out our photo album for pictures of our equipment in action.
Just as the proper amount of nutrients are required to grow corn and soybeans, so is proper amount of water. We are fortunate to have a climate that provides adequate to excessive rainfall and soils with silty-clay structure that will hold the water necessary to grow our crops. Due to the flat topography, during much of the year our soil holds too much water. For that reason, over the past century, systems of both surface ditches and underground drainage tile were constructed to remove excess water. These systems require constant maintenance and improvements to provide water drainage necessary to grow maximum crop yields. We believe soil moisture is the number one factor that determines maximum yield. Proper seed, fertilizer and tillage system are necessary, but will be wasted with either too much or too little soil moisture. For that reason, we have an excavator, small trencher/backhoe, and earthmover to maintain the surface waterways and ditches. We repair and replace the tile as necessary with our equipment when possible, and use skilled contractors for jobs that require larger equipment.