8 www.FarmProgress.com – July 2012
for 2012 wheat
by the land
CHECKING PROGRESS: Barton
County farmer Roger Brining
checks the health of one of the
species of plants in his cover-crop
mixture on a relatively new no-till
ﬁeld that he rents on airport land
owned by the city of Great Bend.
Even forage crops, he says, have
been damaged by drought to
the point he doubts he will try to
harvest hay on this ﬁeld.
■ Roger Brining came back to farming
determined to do right by the land.
■ His ﬁrst decision was converting to no-till
■ His latest move has been into holistic
farming and diversiﬁcation.
By P.J. GRIEKSPOOR
HEN Roger Brining came back
to the family farm in Barton
County in 1999, he made himself
a promise; he was going to do everything
in his power to honor the legacy of four
generations of Brining farmers in Barton
County, and to do right by the land that his
father began acquiring in 1949.
When Brining took over the farm after
his dad died in 2006, he began making
“I planned on the ﬁrst three years being
investment years,” he says. “I wanted to
make improvements on the land, rebuild
the soil, and improve fertility and crop
yields. This farm hadn’t had major improvements done for 20 years. I ﬁgured
2010 would be our ﬁrst year for proﬁt. Then
look at what the weather did to us in 2010
and 2011. It’s a darn good thing that our
ﬁrst three years were pretty decent.”
One of the ﬁrst moves that Brining
made was converting the entire farm to
100% no-till. A year later, he added subsurface drip irrigation to two ﬁelds in an effort
to make maximum use of a diminishing
After ﬁve years of no-till, he has seen
amazing improvements in soil and subsoil quality, a diminishing rate of erosion
from both water and wind, and steadily
In spring 2012, he made a new com-
mitment to another step forward. After
attending a weekend holistic farming
workshop, he decided to move toward
that farming method, building on no-till
with cover crops and continuous crops to
nourish and protect the soil, and diversifying his operation to add a cow-calf herd
and forage crops for intensive grazing to
“I think it is really important for us who
farm in the Great Plains to realize that
we can’t win if we are constantly ﬁghting
nature,” he says. “We have to learn to work
with nature and do what works on the land
we have. And on a lot of that land, forage
crops and ruminant grazing is what nature
He says he hopes to use the manure
from the grazing herd to reduce the need to
add manure for fertilizer. He has contacted
a local feedlot about the possibility of providing a few days of intensive grazing for
cattle on feed.
In addition to changing his operating
mode, he made another critical decision.
He sold about 1,000 acres he had been
farming at both private-party and public
“Initially, I thought about buying some
of my uncle’s land for expanding my operation,” he says. “Then the appraisal came
in and I started looking at whether it made
more sense to sell at this kind of price, and
invest some of the money in improving my
core operation and hanging on to some of
it, maybe for investing in better cropland
in the future.”
He says the land that he kept was
the best farm ground and the easiest to
“What we kept is all within three miles
of the house with the exception of our two
drip-irrigation ﬁelds, which are about six
miles away,” he says. “If I had expanded
with more land, I would have needed to
add equipment and possibly help. By consolidating, the equipment I have is great
and I can get by with the same stafﬁng,
even when you count adding the cow-calf
herd. If we make money, we will be in a
better position to grow down the road.”
An interesting side note, Brining says,
is that the land he sold has intact mineral
rights. He deliberately did not renew or
seek new leases when he made the decision to sell, ﬁguring that selling with mineral rights would provide a higher sales
price. Interestingly, the winning bidder for
the land was an oil exploration company,
“I think there is a pretty good chance
that I could wind up cash-renting back that
land and still farm it,” he says. “For the ﬁrst
time in agricultural history in this country,
it might actually be more proﬁtable to rent
than to own cropland.”
T the beginning of April, Barton
County farmer Roger Brining
was looking at dryland wheat with
a potential yield of 80 bushels per
“This was by far the best wheat
crop I’ve had since I converted to
no-till in 2006,” he says. “It was really
It was also really challenged.
Brining knew the extraordinarily
warm winter and extensive tillering
meant vulnerability to foliar diseases.
And he knew that the crop was
growing on surface moisture, and if
timely rains did not come, there was
a real risk of drought stress as the
The foliar disease stress hit early
and hard. “I sprayed every acre,”
Brining says. “I ﬁgured the yield potential warranted the input cost. And
I had contracted ahead some of the
harvest when prices were really high.
I have a locked-in average price of
$8.56, and some as high as $9.20.
And I have enough irrigated acres
that I know I’ll make the contract.
That will pull me through.”
On April 3, it rained. That was
followed by weeks of summer-like
heat, with temperatures soaring into
the 90s and winds reaching 25 to 30
mph every day. As of May 30, it had
not rained again.
Brining’s dryland acres of wheat
were colorless by the last week of
April. He says he ﬁgured some ﬁelds
at a total loss. “I think I have 80bushel straw and no wheat,” he says.
Then came a cool spell of about
10 days in early May — and, against
all odds, many of the dead-looking
wheat heads began ﬁlling with grain.
“I’d really love to know where
these plants are getting their energy,”
Brining says, looking over a ﬁeld of
plants with absolutely zero green
leaf tissue. “But these heads are
ﬁlling. There are aborted berries. The
berries are tiny and the yield will take
a big hit. But there’s wheat out here.”
He was expecting to start harvest
early, possibly as early as May 25.
Pivot versus drip irrigation
OGER Brining says he was initially told that subsurface drip irrigation was
about 97% efﬁcient, compared to center-pivot irrigation at about 93%.
“My experience initially says drip was a lot more efﬁcient than that, based on
what I saw for water usage,” he says. Those stats, however, came from the relatively good rainfall years of 2008 and 2009.
“I realized huge savings on drip, half to two-thirds of water use on center-pivot,”
Then came the really, really dry year of 2011. And drip still did better, but only
a little better — maybe 3% or 4% better, just as the stats had suggested.
Brining says what he learned is this: In years with normal rainfall, drip irrigation is far more efﬁcient because it is able to better use rainwater. The top 8 to
12 inches of the soil stays dry because the irrigation water goes to the root level.
When it rains, the water soaks into that top layer of soil.
With center-pivot irrigation, the water falls on the surface and the soil stays wet
in the 8 to 12 inches. Rainfall is far more likely to become runoff because the soil
is already saturated.
In years with no rain, there is no boost from natural rainfall, and the differences
in teh watering efﬁciency of drip and center-pivot come more clearly into focus.
“I still think drip has a huge advantage in a ‘normal’ year,” Brining says. “When
you get some rain and you can capture that, it really pays off.”