LA SALLE COUNTY - The LaSalle County Soil & Water Conservation District has chosen the Carl Zimmerman Family as their 2021 Farm Family of the Year. Carl was chosen because of his dedication to soil conservation, water quality, nutrient efficiency, and willingness to share his experiences with others.
After several years working in the agribusiness industry and farming on the side, Carl wanted to get more involved in the family farm operation. He began farming full-time with his father, Larry, in 2015. They had tried no-till previously and soon made the switch to full conservation farming practices by implementing no-till, cover crops, split nitrogen applications, and other practices.
Carl and Larry enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The program’s focus is on helping people “reduce soil erosion, enhance water supplies, improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and reduce damages caused by floods and other natural disasters.” Along with NRCS programs, the Zimmermans are enrolled in the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for grassed waterways, filter strips, and wetland restorations. These practices help reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and promote habitat along with other benefits. Carl plans to add native grass and forb plantings in the future to broaden the biodiversity of his operation.
Carl’s father began farming in Putnam County and moved north to LaSalle County in 1966. He started out with moldboard plowing and over time switched to less invasive soil practices until they settled on a vertical tillage machine around 2010. It took a few more years but this helped to launch them fully into no-till farming practices. The Zimmermans raised corn, soybeans and hogs. The hog operation was farrow-to-finish until the markets and buyers started to dry up in 2000.
Shortly after the hogs left the farm, the Zimmermans started raising sweet corn for Del Monte. To help with weed issues on the sweetcorn fields, they planted oats as a test to keep them suppressed. After the oats showed their worth by reducing weeds and they were more comfortable with them, they began to experiment with other varieties of covers on more acres until all acres had a cover crop. They utilize oats and radishes after sweet corn and cereal ryegrass after field corn. Soybean ground gets a mixture of crimson clover, oats, radishes, and turnips.
Soil tests are taken from GPS points every two years and sent to two different companies to compare results. Phosphorus and potassium are put on in the fall using Variable Rate Technology. Nitrogen is a spilt application in the spring, 20 percent at planting and the remainder is side dressed. Through his CSP contract, Carl is doing nitrate stalk testing along with tissue sample testing. These tests show the efficiency of the plants’ use of nutrients. The operation is a 50/50 corn/soybean rotation with covers on all acres. They are currently contemplating adding a small grain to the rotation.
Carl and Larry have hosted shed meetings on cover crops and Carl has shared his experience in online seminars. His talks cover the financial aspect pertaining to cover crops. He has also participated on several farmer panels.
Farming is truly a family affair with everyone pitching in. Carl’s wife, Monica, helps with rides, lunches, and anything else that needs to be done. Clay, his son, helps by mowing, riding along in the combine, planter and hauling grain. Larry assists with planting and harvest. Kathy, Carl’s mother, gives rides and helps with lunches. John and Dena Corrigan, Carl’s brother-in-law and sister, are close by and lend a hand during the busy times with running errands, grain carts, and anything else they can.
When Carl isn’t farming, he serves on the local school board, Co-op board, and township board.