Some are criticized for being micro-managers, while this fourth generation Macoupin County farmer was awarded for being a microbe-manager. The Fertilizer Institute named Tom Connors a 4R nutrient stewardship Advocate Award winner in 2016.
In the mid-1990s when Tom returned to the family farm, they began 2.5 acre grid soil sampling and employed calibrated yield monitors – the start to his now 20-year tracking history. Triple T Farms grows non-GMO and GMO corn, soybeans and cattle. Tom began soil testing out of concern for the environment and to “make a buck and save a buck while doing it.”
After getting involved in the Macoupin County Extension Council and speaking with area ag leaders, Tom decided he wanted to know where his operation’s manure spreading was creating sufficient phosphate and microbe (organic matter) levels, and which acres needed additional fertilizer.
“Our first soil samples showed high phosphate levels near the barns, and low levels close to the far fence line,” says Tom. “It answered the obvious question, ‘Why are yields in this area so much lower?’”
To apply their findings, Tom rode in the TerraGator on a five-gallon bucket with his laptop open, telling the operator when to turn the levels up or down. It didn’t take long for Triple T Farms to invest in a variable rate drive on the spreader truck.
“All our yield history, soil test results, and other data is compiled into our farm’s ‘bible,’ which is reviewed annually by our team and input suppliers before decisions are made for the coming year,” says Tom. “If, after seeing the data, the seed dealer recommends a hybrid that uses a lot of nitrogen early in the season, we tell our fertilizer supplier we will split apply two-thirds of the needed nitrogen before planting, and follow-up in the growing season with sidedressing.”
Tom complements his precision approach by participating in the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program. He uses cover crops, grass buffer strips, and a drainage management tiling system.
“There’s not a blanket statement saying cover crops, split nitrogen, or any other practice is the correct way to approach sustainability,” says Tom. “Each farm location’s implementation for maximum effect will be different. Farmers need to consider what steps they could take at each location to find input savings while reducing their impact on the environment before regulations are created that don’t best suit their operation.”
After receiving the 4R Advocate Award from the Fertilizer Institute for farmers best applying the 4R principles of nutrient stewardship: right source, right rate, right time, and right place, Tom shares his techniques with farmers and researchers. Also a member of the Macoupin County NRCS phosphorus reduction committee, he endorses sustainable practices across the county and country.
Tom’s sustainable approach to conventional farming techniques sets his operation apart in maximizing return on investment while reducing environmental impact.