If it's not working, then re-evaluate the practice. That's where Kent Fann found answers for problems he faced on the farm.

Fann, who farms cotton and other crops in Salemburg, N.C., was on a grower panel of innovators from the Southeast to the West at the 2003 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Nashville, Tenn.

“I'll talk about what we have found that works on our farm,” Fann says. “Our practices are nothing revolutionary, but work on our farm.”

Conservation tillage is at the heart of the innovation he's speaking about. The practice has led him to build strip-till rig for his farm and adapt a Geo Tracker as an on-the-go soil sampler. Along the way, he has also cut into nematode damage and increased yields.

In the past several years, he has reevaluated everything he does on the farm by taking advice from innovative neighbors as well as conservation tillage experts.

Following seven years of continuous cotton, Fann faced sand blasting, crusting and eroding land. Looking for a solution, he talked with Donald Heath, a fellow North Carolina producer and previous Farm Press High Cotton Award winner.

Taking a cue from Heath's success with strip tillage, Fann decided to build his own strip-till rig from various parts of different implements.

He also discussed the practice with conservation-tillage guru John Bradley, who at the time was director of the University of Tennessee Milan Experiment station in Milan. Bradley now works with Monsanto.

“John Bradley impressed on us the need to re-examine everything we were doing,” Fann says. “We looked at bedding and ripping and were able to cut out trips across the field and improve soil structure with strip-till.”

Fann discovered that soil structure was both the problem and the solution. He noted that organic matter was at the heart of such milestones as 300-plus corn yield records in the Midwest in the mid-70s.

With conventional tillage practices, “we were losing soil structure. We knew we needed to increase the health and soil structure of our soils.”

Re-evaluation of practices even went as far as adapting a Geo Tracker as an on-the-go soil sampler. The Fann farm is a family operation, employing 12 members of the family, including his 61-year-old father.

When brother Bennett Fann grew tired of bumping around in an ATV, he put a bush guard on a Geo Tracker, removed the passenger seat and cut a hole in the floorboard. He takes zone samples on the go through the floorboard in a process that looks similar to ice fishing.

On the advice of George Naderman, retired N.C. State University Extension soil scientist, Fann put an end to row ripping of cotton stalks.

“Pulling stalks has alleviated the problems,” he says. “If you run it too slow, however, it doesn't cover up the lime and the rye seed (when you plant). At 11 mph, it does a great job.”

In areas where he had nematode problems, Fann started using Telone and noted a 150-pound yield increase. “We didn't have to apply it on every acre.

“Telone is expensive, but we made over $2 back for every dollar we spent,” Fann says. He welded carbon steel tips on the rig to help seal the Telone in the ground.

When it comes time to plant into the residue, Fann uses a Unverferth ripper.

“It provides a nice seed bed, but gives us a firm area in between where we can stand up on.”

He uses a Yetter row cleaner on the planters to move trash from the seed furrow. The row cleaner shaves off a layer of dry sand and helps the seed get a good start on the growing season.

“Whatever form of farming you're doing, it's important that you be a good steward of your land,” Fann advised those at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences.

cyancy@primediabusiness.com