January 19th is National Popcorn Day.
Pat Karst and his father farm about 700 acres in the Huntington County, Indiana area. In addition to sponsoring soil and water conservation events, you'll find this professional farm manager giving back through mission work and teaching 3rd graders about popcorn production every year.
For the past 35 years, the same amount of time Pat has been working for Halderman Farm Management, the Karsts have been raising popcorn as part of their crop rotation. Popcorn not only offers some flexibility to their farm, it provides marketing advantages as well as some risk reduction as opposed to field corn.
The Karst family have implemented soil health practices like no-till and cover crops into other areas of their operation. Pat's father began no-tilling in the 1980's through a USDA-NRCS program - mainly for labor-savings when Pat left for college. Now, they only till to correct issues - like post- tile installation or to fix ephemeral gullies after a 5" rain.
Well over a decade ago, the Karsts began incorporating cover crops into their operation. They began by drilling wheat into areas most susceptible to erosion. "After I saw the benefit of that, I thought 'Man - think of what we can do there!' So they have tried wheat, oats, annual ryegrass and are now focusing on cereal rye as a cover crop.
They fly their cover crop into standing corn in September and typically terminate the growing covers before planting soybeans. Like many farmers, Pat has a plan B - in both 2015 and 2019, wet springs led to planting green - planting their soybeans into a growing cover crop and terminating later.
In addition to erosion control, Karst cites a variety of reasons for using cover crops. He that his cereal rye does an excellent job of holding onto nitrogen, reducing compaction, and surprising weeds. "Between our no-till and cover crops, we've nearly eliminated any compaction layers," notes Karst. "One of the first years we used cover crops, we didn't get the seed spread quite right and left a couple of bare spots. There was no mares tail anywhere in that field except for those bare spots - all with the same herbicide application. The competition from that cover crop helped with weed control."
Karst says that one of the primary reasons he uses cover crops is for soil health. "I think it's better for soil to be covered with a green crop year-round rather than just half the year."
Nine years ago, Pat received a Conservation Farmer of the Year Award from the Indiana State Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts for he on-farm and off-farm conservation work. Through his position with Halderman Farm Management, he counsels clients, tenants, and co-workers on conservation. As he stated at the time: "We are merely stewards of the soil while we are here."
Thank you, Pat Karst.