Published Jan 4, 2019

Integrated crop-livestock systems a theme at PFI’s 2019 annual conference

By Tamsyn Jones


Tamsyn Jones | Outreach & Publications Coordinator | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 |

AMES, Iowa — For Kansas farmers Darin and Nancy Williams, integrating no-till, cover crops and livestock is more than just a farming practice: It’s the basis of their regenerative farming philosophy, which sees healthy soil as the ultimate goal and vital link to a host of related benefits, from improved water quality to greater farm profitability.

The Williamses farm 2,000 acres of diverse cash crops consisting of non-GMO soybeans, wheat, rye, barley, triticale, sunflowers and corn near Waverly, Kansas. They also raise grass-fed beef, sheep, chickens and turkeys.

“No-till is not about the lack of tillage, but about managing soil water, soil structure, soil biology and carbon compounds in the soil,” Darin says. “This holistic farming strategy has allowed the health of the soil and water cycles to greatly improve. Healthier soil leads to healthier plants and lower input costs for cash crops.”

When soil is healthy, he says the benefits cascade through the entire system, leading to healthier forage for livestock and, ultimately, healthier food for people.

Darin and Nancy will share their experience with this approach at Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2019 annual conference, “Cultivating Connections,” which will take place Jan. 17-19 at the Iowa State Center Scheman Building, on the Iowa State University campus in Ames.

Their session is one of several that explores different approaches to integrated farming systems:

  • In “Regenerating Degraded Soils With Cover Crops and Livestock,” Darin and Nancy will share how they have successfully integrated long-term crop rotations, cover crops and grazing livestock.
  • In “No-Till, Manure and Cover Crops on a Dairy and Grain Farm in the Challenging Farm Economy,” Dan Meyer will discuss how they have made no-till, diversified crop rotations and cover crops work on their Wisconsin crop and dairy farm – as well as the various benefits they’ve seen from this system.
  • In “What’s the Soil Missing? Integrated Crop Rotation and Livestock,” Trent Sanderson will share how he has improved his northern Illinois crop fields with red clover, winter wheat, strip-tilled corn and no-tilled soybeans with cover crops. He will also discuss grazing livestock on annuals and perennial pastures.

Register on the PFI website, or contact Debra Boekholder at or (515) 232-5661. Those who pre-register by Jan. 10 will save $10 per day. Special rates are available for students and PFI members.

The conference will also feature:

  • Several other crop sessions on topics ranging from starting a cover crop seed business, to growing and managing small grains, to weed control on organic farms and more.
  • A keynote address by farmer and author Michael Phillips, of Heartsong Farm Healing Herbs and Lost Nation Orchard in New Hampshire, who will help listeners understand the vital link between mycorrhizal fungi and crop health, and explain how this fungal network can help foster resilience in ecosystems.
  • Two pre-conference short courses, “Silvopasture” and “Orcharding.” Both courses run Thursday, Jan. 17 from 1-6:30 p.m. and continue Friday, Jan. 18 from 8-11:30 a.m., at the Scheman Building.
  • Many opportunities to network and build relationships with other farmers, researchers, consumers and sponsors – including during the free breakfast served on Saturday morning.

For full details on conference sessions, speakers, vendors and lodging options – as well as a downloadable conference brochure – visit PFI’s annual conference webpage.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2019 annual conference is supported by several major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Clarity Financial Planning; Clif Bar & Co.; Grain Millers; Hall Roberts’ Son, Inc.; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy and Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Natural Resources Defense Council; and Niman Ranch.


Practical Farmers of Iowa works to equip farmers to build resilient farms and communities. Our values include: welcoming everyone; farmers leading the exchange of experience and knowledge; curiosity, creativity, collaboration and community; resilient farms now and for future generations; and stewardship of land and resources. To learn more, visit

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