An Article from Better Farming, March 2017
– By Jennifer Jackson
Switching the farm operation from conventional tillage to 100 per cent no-till was more of a financial decision, says Mike Belan, a cash crop farmer in Lambton County.
Driven by high interest rates at the time, “Dad and my uncle started no-till in 1991 to cut back on the cost of production,” Belan says. “It was about changing how they do things – selling equipment and cutting back on acres.”
Now, Belan is a firm believer in no-till for the health of his soil and would never consider switching back to conventional tillage.
“It has been a blessing in disguise – who knew, 25 years later, that (no-till) was the way to go on our farms,” he says.
Recent soil tests have shown Belan’s soils have greatly increased in soil organic matter (SOM) content.
This SOM has resulted in observable benefits, including better water infiltration in fields, deeper plant root systems and an increased number of worms.
In what he deems the “next phase” of his soil management, Belan has grown cover crops for the past three years to further increase his SOM.
“We are keeping our soil covered all year on all of our acres,” he says. “We are trying to keep something diverse growing (at all times).”
To Belan, improving soil health should be viewed as an investment. While there may be a yield drag at first with the switch to no-till, Belan feels he has ultimately benefitted from his dad’s and uncle’s decision – in terms of an improvement in both soil health and nutrient cycling.
No-till “is definitely a system. If you are going to go with no-till, you have to do it 100 per cent – you have to believe in the whole system, from planting to harvesting, and every- thing in-between,” Belan says.
“There is nothing concrete about (yield) results – that’s the hardest part of explaining (no-till). Our yields are not heads and shoulders above everyone else’s – it’s the fluctuation of yields that we are trying to take out of (our operation),” he says. “We want to build our soil so it can weather out storms and droughts better – it’s a long-term investment.”
28 Questions with Mike Belan
My role (is) a shared management and labour position. My dad, my uncle and I all work and make decisions together.
My dad, my uncle and I all farm together. During the busy season, we have a hired man to help with harvest and, of course, my wife and kids are there doing the small jobs behind the scenes.
It varies depending on the season but definitely more than a regular 40-hour work week.
Roughly five to 10 emails per day – but some emails are more important than others.
It would have to be under an hour per day talking on a cell phone.
I would probably spend a couple of hours a day on my smartphone – it’s where I stay current if I’m not at the computer.
Either or – I usually check both throughout the day. If it’s important I like to have it in email form so I can keep it for future (reference).
My go-to apps (are) The Weather Network, Google and Twitter. All of them are used every day and some of them take up more of my time than they should.
Three hours per day.
We try to travel once a year as a family somewhere warm. We also like to stay semi-local and take day trips that involve the whole family.
My wife and I took the kids on a Disney cruise.
Actually sitting down at the computer, probably one to two hours per day. Often my office becomes mobile with my smartphone.
Farming with family and having them grow (up) and enjoy it with me.
I really struggle with the agronomy side of farming. Even though it’s a major aspect of farming, I still depend on a network of crop advisors to help make crop management decisions.
The single most important lesson I have learned from farming with my family is to be prepared and have a plan, so that you can use your time most efficiently.
Use your time wisely – you only have so many cropping years to make a positive impact, (making your) farm successful, sustainable and viable for the next generation.
We are at the beginning stages of planning for farm succession or – as we like to call it – farm
continuation. There are two tips that we keep getting: start the planning process early and communicate with everyone involved in the operation.
I coach my son’s hockey team and I have recently become a board member for the Lambton Federation of Agriculture.
Beer league hockey.
I’m not much of a book guy – I prefer to read a newspaper or magazine article that I find interesting.
They share the same vision and goals as I do. My wife and kids are involved with doing chores, bringing meals and moving equipment to the field when it’s busy. They understand the demands that farming can have when it’s busy.
To make sure that our farming operation is viable enough to be able to provide an opportunity for the next generation to farm and make a living from farming.
Success would be reaching my goal of being able to farm with family andtransition the family farm for the next generation.
The farm truck would be an organized mess.
Computer, daily planner and bills.
We do a lot of our own repairs and fabrication in our shop, so we are always replacing and upgrading our tools. One of our recent upgrades was a new set of cordless drills and a cordless impact drill/driver set.
The best time of the day is early morning – before the demands of the day change your plans for the day.
The most memorable year would have been (2016’s) wheat harvest. It was a pleasant surprise to harvest that much wheat per acre.