Brian Younker farms with his dad, Dale Younker, and brother, Brad Younker, in La Crosse Kansas, and together they make up the three wise men in 3 Y’s Men, LLC. They farm around 2,000 acres of 100% dryland, producing soybeans, grain sorghum, wheat, oats and corn, and they know the importance of stewardship to keeping their farm resilient for the future.
Soil health is at the forefront of the Younkers’ operation and is the driving force behind their conservation efforts. Brian describes how “each of us has our role when it comes to our conservation program…I’m the boots on the ground, Dad is the expert on all things soil health, and Brad takes care of all our paperwork. It wouldn’t work without all three of us doing our part.” Dale’s soil health expertise comes from a long history of working for USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as the Soil Health Cover Crop Lead for Western Kansas. Brad also works for the NRCS as an Agriculture Engineer designing things like waterways and waste water systems. Needless to say, their roots run deep when it comes to conservation.
Dale started transitioning his acres to no-till in the early 2000s. Through this transition, they have seen an increase in soil microbes and improved water infiltration. Brian stressed the importance of no-till for the long-term health of their soil, and that it has taken “15-20 years to fully restore some soils in their operation.” The 3 Y’s Men are leaders in sustainable agriculture and find new practices to adopt year after year “to achieve the most [they] can out of the soil [they] have.”
They utilize variable rate technology (VRT) to apply nitrogen, phosphorous and ag lime to their fields. Through VRT, they are able to see their entire farm in 2 ½ acre grids, giving them the ability to apply the right nutrients at the right time, in the right amount – and to avoid over application and nutrient runoff. Other conservation practices on the Younkers’ farm include cover crops, Haney Soil testing, plant and tissue sampling every crop every year, nitrogen inhibitors and application of fertilizer 30 days before planting.
The 3 Y’s Men recently introduced a Monarch butterfly habitat program to their operation – an interesting and surprisingly profitable addition. First, they identified low producing acres in their operation and transitioned them to Monarch butterfly habitats. Although the cost of seed is high at first, the yearly program payment makes up for it and makes once low-performing acres incredibly profitable and environmentally sound, according to Brian.
Though the Younkers stay busy implementing all of these conservation practices on their farm, they are also active in promoting stewardship in their community. Brian, Dale and Brad are all actively enrolled in their local Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to find ways to maximize funding while improving on-farm stewardship. The Younker farm is ranked the highest in their area both for stewardship and yield, in large part due to their involvement in the CSP program. “More producers should apply for the CSP program,” said Brian. “It is a little work, but not hard work and the payment is nice.”
The 3 Y’s Men also work closely with their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Alliance Ag and Grain. Through Alliance Ag and Grain, the Younkers were able to partner with Truterra to utilize the Truterra™ Insights Engine. Brian said that the tool helps him learn new insights about his farm and he believes it will become even more important for farmers to have a stewardship report of their farm practices in the future.
Adding to their leadership in sustainable agriculture, Brian was recently selected as one of the thirteen members of the Leadership Sorghum Class V, a program designed to develop the next generation of sorghum leaders and industry advocates.
In everything the 3 Y’s Men do for their farm and community, their knowledge of stewardship shines through. Their hope is to continue to improve their stewardship practices and in return see better soil health, better yields, and better profitability for generations to come.