BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Brad Zimmerman enjoys challenging the status quo and trying things differently to improve his farming operation.
“I’m not afraid to fail and that’s how we learn. We’ve got to fail in order to grow,” Zimmerman, a Groveland area farmer, said at the Illinois Soybean Association’s Better Beans Series.
Zimmerman, a fifth-generation farmer, is founder and CEO of SeedOnomy and focuses his in-field trials on the physical, chemical and biological aspects of production working in unison to help the crops thrive.
His father began no-tilling in the mid-1980s and began strip-tilling in the mid-1990s.
“My dad was a bit of a pioneer. He saw the value of taking care of the soil,” Zimmerman said.
The family saw the importance of residue in the farming operation and learned how to manage around that residue and “live in harmony with it.”
Zimmerman uses a cereal rye cover crop ahead of soybeans and plants green. He is also planting some cover crops ahead of corn and is still working out the kinks to figure that all out.
“One of the most interesting things I think that I’ve done in farming was when we flew on a 12-way mix ahead of corn in standing soybeans. We got a good rain and it started growing,” he said.
“When we harvested the soybeans we were basically rolling on a green carpet. So, it was like carpet farming again which I thought was pretty cool and just a neat experience to see the dry decaying soybeans and the green cover underneath.
“When I started in 2013 when dad passed I started with cover crops and I didn’t start slowly. It was something I believed in. I believed in rebuilding the soils that we had.
“Some of the soils had been degraded. Some rental ground had been tilled pretty excessively and the biological engine wasn’t there. The soil structure was not there. The fertility accessibility was not there.
“So, I really liked what I saw with some of the cover crops that I had done in the past and talking to other guys, I really jumped into that wholeheartedly.
“A lot of guys looked funny at me, which is fine, I wasn’t sure what I was doing either, but I learned.”
Zimmerman continues to work outside the box and try new strategies, including the use of Discovery Plots.
In 2021, he took 40 acres of his farm, put in some grass pathways and divided those acres into 80 half-acre plots. Replications were included in each trial.
“A lot of the trials included some of the hot stuff people were asking about — biologicals, biostimulants, microbes — but the determining factor and what’s common to all of these is what kind of nutrient efficiency are we accomplishing,” Zimmerman said.
“There’s quite a bit that we can learn and the only way you’re going to learn is to do it on your own farm. I would encourage you maybe not to do it to this extent, but set up some trails. Do some things differently.
“Take an 80 and divide it into two 40s and do a different practice on there. Maybe it’s a biological in-furrow or maybe it’s a foliar treatment or something. We do that with fungicide and things like that.
“Let’s do it with some of the things that will make your fertilizer more available and that’s the main goal here.”
Zimmerman began using an in-furrow biological treatment on soybeans in 2022 trials.
“I’m really excited by what we’re seeing in terms of being able to edge the genetics into the direction that we want. We want branching. We want tighter righter pods and we want bigger roots,” he noted.
“I’m super interested to see how it goes going forward, but I think that’s what a lot of guys are looking for. I encourage guys to encourage branching whether it’s lowering populations or now we have some biological means that can help us do that, as well.
“We used another biological that replaces nitrogen in corn. We are really encouraged with what we’re seeing there, as well.”
For his Discovery Plots research, he initially used a backpack sprayer to apply foliar feed, but after much research he’s moved to a drone to apply fungicide, foliars and other over-the-top treatments.
Zimmerman found through extensive testing that the drones provided good fungicide penetration into the canopies to protect the plants.