The Daake family has been farming in Nebraska for generations. Today, Dave Daake and his son, Alex, continue that tradition by farming and practicing conservation on the family’s 1,100 acres, which lie between Goehner, Utica, and Beaver Crossing.
Due to their commitment to smart stewardship of the land, the father and son farming team will be recognized in September with an Outstanding Soil Conservation Award, presented by the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts at their annual conference.
“The way that the Daakes farm, with an emphasis on practical conservation, soil health and sustainability, is just what we would like to see all producers in our district do,” said NRD General Manager David Eigenberg. “They are a great example of how conservation can work hand in hand with profitable land management. We are proud that they are partnering with the NRD on programs to improve their land as well as protect our natural resources.”
Dave and Alex grow a rotation of crops including soybeans, corn, alfalfa, and grasses. They are considering adding wheat to the rotation as well, as they are always looking for ways to improve the diversity of the operation. Dave used to raise sheep and hogs, but currently Alex is trying out a small cow-calf operation on the land to improve their soil health as well as profitability. The animals graze on the forage mix cover crops, which benefits the cattle and the soil, as the grazing practices break up compaction and recycle nutrients.
Soil health has been important to Dave for decades. Trained in horticulture at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, Nebraska, Dave started no-tilling 25 years ago on a portion of his fields and is now 100 percent no-till in their operation. About 15 years ago, he started adding turnips and then later rye grass as a cover crop to reduce erosion and compaction. He’s been steadily adding cover crops to more and more acres each year. Alex enjoys researching cover crop mixes and experimenting with planting options including timing and row spacing, looking for ways to maximize on the investment. “We’re planting more cover crops each year,” said Dave. Alex plans to have cover crops on all of their row cropped acres eventually.
The team has increased the soil organic matter measurements on many of their fields to be 4.5 to 5 percent, which has reduced their need for fertilizer inputs. The increased levels of soil organic matter provide essential nutrients for plants and microbes, as well as increasing water holding capacity. “It saves us a pass or two each year with the pivot,” says Dave, “and in drought years like 2012, we aren’t impacted as much. You don’t see the dirt blowing in the spring.” The cover crops suppress enough weeds that there is also a reduction in herbicide inputs needed. Dave sees the many active earthworms in his fields as evidence that the soil health continues to flourish.
The majority of the family’s acres are irrigated cropland with center pivots. They also have a small number of acres using gravity irrigation, which they are considering turning into a mixed vegetation pasture. Dave is proud of a 46-acre wetland under conservation easement on the property that is a habitat for a great number of waterfowl annually. Dave has worked with Pheasants Forever and the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District to convert some harder to farm pivot corners to native grasses to provide Corners for Wildlife habitat. In the 20+ years since some corners have been planted to native grasses, the property has become a haven for game birds as well as other animals.
Tree planting has been a passion for the pair as well. “Trees are my weakness,” said Dave, who estimates he has planted several hundred trees on his property through the years. He likes oaks best, but he has planted for diversity, including about 80 tree varieties. Alex recently worked with the Upper Big Blue NRD to install a new half-mile windbreak that will shelter the cattle herd when the trees are mature.
The Daakes also maintain three small dam structures which provide erosion and sediment control, as well as wildlife benefits.
Dave says the farm has competitive yields, which he sees as a testament to the power of the conservation practices they have incorporated over the years.
The Nebraska Association of Resources Districts (NARD), the trade association for Nebraska’s 23 Natural Resources Districts (NRDs), works with individual districts to protect lives, property and the future of Nebraska’s natural resources. NRDs are unique to Nebraska, and act as local government entities with broad responsibilities to protect Nebraska’s natural resources. Major Nebraska river basins form the boundaries of the 23 NRDs, enabling districts to respond to local conservation and resource management needs. Learn more about Nebraska’s NRDs at www.nrdnet.org.