Of and For the Future

Here in the hills of southern Indiana’s Dubois County, veteran farmer Dave Ring has ably combined the best of tradition and new technology to create a sustainable home and business for a fifth generation, and a budding sixth.

By Des Keller | Photos By Des Keller

David, Brent, Dylan and Kathy, Dylan’s grandmother, on the farm.

David, Brent, Dylan and Kathy, Dylan’s grandmother, on the farm.

A legacy of sustainability is evident from the talk around the table in their farm shop on a recent warm afternoon. Dave, his son Brent, 38, and grandson Dylan, 8, laugh about a story in which the boy informed his grade-school teacher that he may have to come home soon to farm full time.

The reason? It seems his dad had accumulated some gray hair around his temples. Dylan took that as a sign that Brent would be retiring soon and his time to take over was at hand.

“Dylan is 8 going on 21,” laughs Dave, obviously proud of his grandson. Dave also feels confident the operation will be healthy when Dylan is indeed ready to take over.

The Rings farm more than 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat, milk 100-plus dairy cows and raise thousands of tom turkeys annually on a contract basis. They have always been proponents of good conservation. They seed cover crops in the fall, do minimal subsurface tillage, incorporate dairy manure and turkey litter in the soil, and buffer waterways.

“As for conservation, you have no choice in this part of the world,” says Dave. “We have rolling ground and you have to prepare the land to slow erosion. If we weren’t good stewards, there wouldn’t be anything left for
my grandson.”

Dave is used to thinking about new generations. For 28 years, he was a high school business teacher, then vocational agriculture teacher and FFA leader. Now 68, he spent his younger days rising at 3 a.m. to milk cows and work the farm before heading off to his teaching job.

He thought the teaching would only be temporary—to help out the school district fill a sudden vacancy, then later to secure the agriculture program in danger of being cut for lack of an instructor. Turns out he was a natural. “I was starting to enjoy it,” Dave admits.

He is particularly proud of nearby Southridge High School’s FFA program, which had 15 members when he started teaching it and 160 when he retired in 2009.

Earlier this year, Dave Ring was recognized with the prestigious Master Farmer award from Indiana Prairie Farmer magazine. The nominees are considered for the honor based on the quality of their operation and community service. The awards were given this past spring at a banquet sponsored by the magazine and the Purdue Ag Alumni Association.

“He’s a leader, not a follower,” Calvin Seitz says of Dave. Calvin, a Certified Crop Adviser with Superior Ag, has worked with Dave for 21 years and nominated him for the award. “He takes new innovations and isn’t afraid to try them.”

Specifically, Calvin mentions the Rings’ use of precision farming techniques that involve grid soil sampling and variable application of seed and fertilizer. In fact, when we talked to Calvin, he was preparing soil and yield maps of the Ring farm to make a prescription plan for the planting of cover crops. The Rings use wheat, barley and daikon, or tillage radishes, to keep plant mass on the fields until spring.

“Originally, we planted cover crops to control erosion,” says Dave. “We’ve now come to find out that if you plant things like radishes, winter peas and crimson clover, those plants collect nutrients from the soil. Those nutrients are held and released back into the soil for use by our cash crops when the cover crops are killed off in the spring.”

“The Rings have done a super job of being diversified,” says Kevin Lubbehusen of Blesch Bros. Equipment Co., Dave’s farm equipment dealer. He’s also impressed with Dave Ring’s ability to stay on top of farming technology and act as an influencer.

“You don’t often see someone of his age staying out front on the technology side,” says Kevin. “That ability to stay current, along with his years of experience and his reputation for being a straight shooter, make him someone people listen to.”

This is all heady praise for a guy who remembers heading out to work the farm’s original 100 acres carrying a toolbox of bolts. “We’d hit stumps all the time and the bolts were used to repair the plow,” says Dave. The hilly terrain was always suited to dairy cows—and there have been dairy cows on the farm for 100 years. Stumps weren’t a big deal when the land was used for pasture, but once they started planting crops, the stumps became more of a challenge.

The Rings were comfortable enough with precision technology that they are one of 100 operations around the country in 2013 testing a new prescription farming program from Monsanto Co. The new product, FieldScripts, will be available nationally in 2014. The program uses yield, soil and field nutrient data to prescribe particular hybrids and varieties at variable population rates for a given area of a field.

The Rings collect soil samples from 2½-acre grids to gather nutrient data. Not only do they use commercial fertilizer, they also apply manure from the dairy herd and litter from the turkey houses. Grid sampling allows them to determine what is in the soil and fine-tune application rates.

In addition to providing fertilizer, the livestock operations are a source of diversification and cash flow. “We have the facilities, we have great help, and we get regular checks,” says Dave. At least 10% of their corn is used for feed and corn silage for the dairy herd year-round, while the rest is sold on the open market.

As Dave has stayed busy with more day-to-day farming duties, he has allowed Brent to take on the lion’s share of management responsibility for the farm. In particular, Brent handles all the planting duties and most of the expertise needed to run the turkey facilities.

And if either of them want to shed any more work, there’s always young Dylan, champing at the bit to do whatever job exists on the Ring Farms.