Showing posts from January, 2023

Soil Health Management Plans

USDA-NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) is promoting farmers to adapt a soil health management plan for their farms. NRCS defines soil health as “the continued capacity of a soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.” There are several key concepts. First, soil is alive and teaming with soil microbes and other biological life (earthworms, mites, springtails, etc.). Second, soil has many functions that are critical to our life.  Key essential soil functions include: 1) regulating water, 2) sustaining plant and animal life, 3) filtering and buffering potential pollutants, 4) cycling soil nutrients and 5) providing physical stability and support. Soil microbes mediate about 90% of all soil functions. Microbes process all soil carbon and even breakdown rocks to make plant nutrients available. Also, soil microbes are the end-product of most soil organic matter (SOM). Dead microbes become the long-term SOM Soils help control (regulate) w

U.S. Farm Bill Polls

  The US Farm Bill talks are now starting and a recent poll by Morning Consult (Walton Family Foundation) shows that voters support sustainable farming practices. Most Americans understand that keeping farming profitable is important for our national security but they also want healthy food and water and they support farming practices that make agriculture sustainable. Key summary points from this poll: “Nearly 90% of Americans believe that it is important to update and encourage sustainable farming practices that support clean water and healthy, productive soil." “Roughly 80% of Americans also support modernizing the Farm Bill to support farmers as they implement more sustainable farming practices.” A key Walton Foundation Conclusion of this poll was: "Supporting farmers to grow food more sustainably is a way to protect people and nature together. This should be a priority in the Farm Bill, and also a call to action to the food industry – people are hungry for sustainable op

Cover Crop Value

  What value do cover crops bring to a farm field? As the old saying goes: There are a 1000 ways to skin a cat! Please do not take that literally. I came across two sources that try to put a value on cover crops for their farms. Rulon farms in Indiana have been doing no-till and cover crops since 2005. They farm 5600 acres, 50-50 corn -soybean, using no-till and about 90% of their acres have cover crops. This is a family farm with one brother being a Purdue Economist. Since they believe the benefits accrue over many years, they do a “whole farm” cost-benefit approach (costs and benefits/acre are additive). The Rulon’s have used 4 different cover crop mixes using mostly spring oats, radish, rape, and crimson clover (after early corn) or simply cereal rye after late corn. Their average cost per acre for seed is around $22/acre. The cost for seeding is another $13 for a total cost per acre of $35 (whole farm).Cover crop benefits are varied and additive. On fertilizer, they figure they sav

5 Keys to Success for Roller-Crimping Covers

From getting a thick stand of cover crops to terminating them at the right time, roller-crimping experts explain the key components for weed control in organic no-till. Rolling and crimping of cover crops is a crucial component to making organic no-tilling work, experts say. Biomass left over from a healthy canopy of cover crops can suppress weeds, while roller-crimpers handle cover crop termination — all without the use of herbicides or tillage. But ensuring that the cover crop grows enough biomass to suppress weeds and is completely killed requires dedicated management. Read Full Article ESSENTIAL TOOL. Roller-crimpers, such as this one originally designed by The Rodale Institute, are perhaps the most important equipment for organic no-tillers to own, as they let growers terminate cover crops without chemicals and lay down thick mulch to smother weeds. (Photo Courtesy of The Rodale Institute)

Tips for First Time No-tillers

  Tips for First Time No-tillers Veteran no-tillers know that no-till farming offers several benefits including keeping soil in place, improved nutrient recycling; savings on labor and fuel; and improved water infiltration, water storage, and drought resiliency. No-till means that farmers plant into an undisturbed soil that is teaming with microbes. Beneficial microbes prefer a stable environment to grow, so soil health improves over time. High fuel prices, high inputs costs for chemicals and fertilizer, labor shortages, and weather issues are starting to make no-till farming more appealing. Getting started in no-till can be challenging because it is a different system and it takes time to learn new skills. Here are some tips for getting started. First, it helps to solve some of your existing problems. Make sure you have adequate drainage, take care of the weeds, and soil tests to address fertility issues. Do not forget to check on micronutrient levels. No-till can help with these prob

SA Soil Erosion

  The following article was adapted from an article entitled “More than 50 billion tons of topsoil have eroded in the Midwest” (Elizabeth Gamillo). The estimate of annual soil loss is double the rate of erosion USDA considers sustainable. Soil scientist estimates that 57.6 billion tons of topsoil has been lost in the USA in the last 160 years. During the Dust Bowl era (1930’s), over 20 tons of topsoil per acre were lost annually in the Midwest due to wind erosion. Due to soil conservation efforts, erosion rates declined to around 7.4 tons nationwide and new estimates are closer to 5 tons per year. However, these are only estimates and sometimes the way these numbers are calculated differs. In many cases, they are looking at only sheet, rill, and wind erosion; ignoring the gully erosion which is the most severe. Sheet erosion is the thin layer of topsoil that erodes across the whole field and is barely noticeable. Rill erosion occurs when water runs off and forms small channels as it mo