POSEYVILLE, Ind. — Carl Seib wasn’t looking for a carbon credit program when he used Indigo Ag to locate specialty markets for corn and soybeans. But he found one, and Seib Farms has used the experience to learn and grow — and profit — in multiple ways.
Adapting new practices and stopping some tried-and-true ones has challenged and changed the farm and the farmer along the way.
“It challenged us to try practices that, originally, we wouldn’t have been willing to do,” Carl said.
He spoke about the family’s participation in Indigo Ag’s carbon program during the 2021 Purdue Farm Management Tour. Seib Farms, the farm that Carl and his brother, Matthew, operate with their father, Wayne, and uncle, Mark, and farm employee A.J. Reynolds, was one of the farm’s featured on this year’s tour of southwest Indiana.
“We started out using them for finding specialty markets that aren’t typically advertised. They came to us promoting another service they were about to offer,” Carl said.
At the time, the Seibs had just started planting some acres in cover crops. Carl wasn’t ready to sign up when he heard about the new venture to pay farmers for new practices that sequester carbon.
“I was pretty skeptical about it at the time,” he said.
One of the first practices to stop was one of the hardest to let go of — tillage. But even before he talked to Indigo Ag, Carl said agronomists had warned about too much tillage.
“It started out with the tillage aspect. We thought we were doing too much tillage, spending too much time on tillage. We were being advised by agronomists that we were probably doing more harm than good with the amount of tillage we were doing. I think all of us didn’t believe that for quite some time because it’s normal and it’s just what you do,” Carl said.
The first part of the tillage transition was that the farm stopped all deep tillage. Then they switched to vertical till. The farm has since also switched some acres to no-till.
“That took just some minor changes to the planter to help get through the cover crop, but nothing major, not a whole farm retooling by any means,” Carl said.
Changing equipment was another big part of the program.
“We had to change equipment, that’s what we learned over time and is probably the biggest thing. The vertical tillage came along because we were looking for a better practice and it fell in. We had to do some changes to our planter,” Carl said.
The Seibs started planting cover crops just prior to joining the Indigo Ag program and Carl said that cover crops continue to be a work in progress.
“The cover crop aspect we’ve been messing with the last couple of years and the last two years we’ve gone heavier on it. It was one of those change aspects. We started digging into it and it was like, there’s something here, but we just have to figure out what the best practice is to do and how to work all of this. Hopefully, later, we can do it on all of our acres and see a huge benefit from it,” Carl said.
Indigo Ag did soil testing to measure the farm’s carbon levels to get a baseline measurement for the Seibs and Indigo to measure their progress. Carl said now they just come out to soil test hot spots around the farm.
One big part of the process when the Seibs enrolled in the program about two and a half years ago was that Indigo required five years of farm data.
“It had to be every pass through the field, whether it’s tillage, planting, spraying or fertilizer. It pretty much built a baseline as to where your current carbon levels are, so building from there, they know how well you are doing,” Carl said.
He said it took about a week to gather the data and format it. He said he was reluctant at first to share the data.
“Everybody has their level of privacy that they enjoy, especially the older generation, and us younger generations, too. You have to share all your secrets. You don’t want to at first, but it’s part of what you have to do. Everything is public knowledge almost anymore, and once you finally accept that, it made it easier to get into it,” he said.
The process introduced Carl and his brother, father and uncle to practices they might not have otherwise tried.
“More than anything, it helped motivate us to be more conservative. It challenged us to try practices that, originally, we wouldn’t have been willing to do,” he said.
Even with the doubts, Carl said the process has resulted in profitability.
“Big picture, it’s made us a lot more than we invested and it has continually done so. Based off of just the payments, it probably wouldn’t have, but the yield aspect and what we gained from that, just broad spectrum savings of fuel and time, it all kind of played in. With yield alone, it paid for everything we had to do,” he said.