Veldkamp Farms. Inc. Jasper, MN

Ridge-till system brings side-dressed nutrients to growing crops for this Minnesota operation.

Back in 1983, Jim and JoAnn Veldkamp switched to a ridge-till system for growing their corn and soybean crops as a way to keep yields high while protecting soil and saving moisture. When the Veldkamps became shareholders in the Pipestone System, a network of independent family farmers, they switched over to total confinement barns with deep-pit manure storage systems. With that change, they have found that side-dressing nutrients into the valleys of the ridged crops is a perfect fit for their southwest Minnesota farm.

“By ridge-tilling, we have mini-terraces every 30 inches,” Jim explains. “The crop residue stays in the valleys and helps hold moisture. Our goal is to hold rainwater where it lands, and not let it run off. When we inject manure into the valleys, the injectors lift the residue and place the manure beneath it, where it can't get away. It also minimizes any chance of odor during our application.”

While that approach to nutrient management helps the Veldkamps grow bumper crops on these deep, rich soils near Jasper, MN, the farm also benefits from Jim and JoAnn's perfectionist nature. A generous, well-landscaped farm yard, weed-free rock borders around building perimeters, and a farm entrance with a laser-scribed quartz boulder and a lighted flagpole displaying Old Glory are all hints of the family's devotion to stewardship.

You'll be hard-pressed to find a more pristine pork operation. “The Veldkamp farm illustrates total farm management at its best,” says Gordon Spronk, a swine veterinarian at the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic. The Veldkamps purchased shares in two sow units managed by the clinic in the Pipestone System. They receive weaned pigs for the farm's three, 600-head nurseries; three, 1,200-head finishing barns; and the new, 2,400-head wean-to-finish barn.

The Veldkamps often host pork-loin lunches for international visitors who come to learn about the Pipestone System. Guests from Japan, Australia, Sweden, Italy and other countries get a positive image of America's pork producers as they enjoy food and exchange pork production philosophies, just an arm's length away from facilities that produce about 16,500 market hogs each year. “The operation looks great every day of the year,” Spronk continues. “The Veldkamps prove that a family farm operation can compete and be a positive part of agriculture in the 21st Century.”

Guided by GPS

Ridge-till is a controlled-traffic farming system in which crops are planted on the same rows year after year. A GPS guidance system helps keep the 16-row, 30-inch planter on track. A pair of 4,200-gallon Balzer tanks with five shanks matches up to that traffic system. Three tanker passes match the width of one planter pass.

A ridging cultivator used on the growing corn crop rebuilds the ridges, so a set of ridges is used for the following soybean crop as well. “We use a Row Stalker to process stalks in the spring, so 100% of the residue stays on the field in the valleys,” Jim says. “The next spring, the planter removes residue and makes a clean black strip on top of the ridge for the next crop to be planted in.”

Savings from recycling nutrients from the pork operation are substantial, with a recent estimate that each 1,000 gallons of manure applied to the crop puts $60 to $70 worth of nutrients into the ground. “That's why we put so much effort into testing manure and testing soil, and working closely with our agronomist to decide on which fields to apply the manure,” Jim says. Centrol Crop Consulting advises the Veldkamp farm on all of its agronomic and nutrient-management plans for its 1,250 acres of crops. Centrol personnel take soil samples from all soybean fields — fields that will be planted to corn the following year — each fall. Manure samples are collected as pits are pumped.

All the farm's crop ground is within three miles of the pork operation. “That greatly reduces our application costs and saves a lot of time,” Jim says. In addition to side-dressing both corn and soybean crops, the Veldkamps do some fall application after harvest, with application rates matched up to each field's nutrient needs.

The farm also has been a research site for a pit additive called Accelerator Plus, which aids in maintaining live bacteria in the pit. A high level of live bacteria can help reduce both odor and nitrogen loss. At certain rates, the product seems to help keep manure in suspension, Jim observes, helping to reduce the amount of solids settling in the pit. That reduces the amount of agitation needed for pumping and also reduces the amount of odor and prevents surface crust from forming, he explains.

Reducing dust also is a priority. Pit fans are washed and mechanically maintained for peak efficiency. Added fat in the diets helps reduce dust. And there are a number of mature trees in a grove around the buildings, which also help filter out dust.

Nutrient loop

Corn raised on the farm is processed through an on-farm feedmill to supply the pigs. Formulating swine diets for split-sex feeding and adding phytase in feeds helps minimize any environmental impact from the standpoint of feed formulation.

Because the nutrients from the corn crop feeds the pigs, and the nutrients from the pig manure feeds the corn crop, the Veldkamp farm is taking advantage of the full circle of fertility that is as old as agriculture.

Judging by yields, the system is working pretty well. In a national corn-yield contest, the Veldkamps have been top finishers in the ridge-till dryland category. “We consider our manure nutrients to be a valuable farm resource,” Jim says. “We spread it over as many acres as possible.”

Neighborly touch

Community service is important to the Veldkamps. Both Jim and JoAnn have been active emergency medical technicians in the local ambulance service for the past 20 years.

Located on a heavily traveled state road, the Veldkamps make an extra effort to make sure the aesthetics of the operation are top-notch. “We want to make sure that people have a good image of today's pork producers when they go past our place,” JoAnn says. “We know they are potential consumers, and we want them to have confidence in our pork products.” JoAnn adds that employees Randy Baden and Joe Buysse make an extra effort to keep up the appearance of the farm. “They treat it like their own,” she adds.

The Veldkamps also are located close to a rural cemetery. Rows of evergreens and lilacs, which bloom around Memorial Day, have been planted as an additional buffer around the finishing barns. “We don't want to interfere with anyone's visit to the cemetery,” JoAnn says.

It's unlikely that anyone will have a concern about the look of this operation, with its professional, highly landscaped appearance. The Veldkamps say keeping it looking so nice is nothing more than a habit. “I've never thought of our place as some award-winning operation,” Jim says. “To us, it's just home.”