Theory vs Practice in Soil Health with Frank Rademacher

Eisenhower famously said “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” That resonates with a lot of farmers who know the theory of farming doesn’t always directly translate to the practice. Farmer and agronomist Frank Rademacher joins us to talk about what’s working on his farm in East Central Illinois, and the work he does as a conservation agronomist with The Nature Conservancy. Frank discusses the theory vs the practice when it comes to soil health, what has worked and what hasn’t worked on his farm, how they’ve arrived at some of their current practices, and a little bit on Frank’s work with retailers on behalf of The Nature Conservancy. 

“What we kind of found is we were doing diverse mixes, kind of buying into some of that messaging that diverse mixes are always best. And again, I think that’s kind of where the theory versus in practice discussion happens because we would have some harsh winters and no snow cover. And so some of those species would not overwinter. And so, we start off on a bad foot if we’re really depending on cover crops and we can’t get the consistency. So what we’ve really tried to build over time is a portfolio of cover crops that perform consistently.” – Frank Rademacher

Frank found a passion for agronomy while in college, and started helping his father implement some conservation practices on their farm. Over the past 10 years, Frank and his father have gone 100% no-till and insecticide-free on their 600 acre farm. They’ve also ramped up their cover crop program which includes using a roller-crimper and high biomass cover crops. Frank also works as a conservation agronomist with The Nature Conservancy, where part of his focus is working with ag retailers and other farmer advisors to add conservation advice to their business models. 

“I understand what some of the environmental goals that Illinois has set out are and I also understand that some of these things are difficult to do at the farm level. And so, how do we scale conservation? That’s a lot of what we look at now is not only shaping that cover crop mix to be a little bit more flexible, depending on spring weather, but also just understanding the operation as a whole.” – Frank Rademacher