Saturday, November 14, 2015

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

There has been a great deal of discussion lately about the topics of farm sustainability, food security, and environmentally sound agricultural practices.  We, as farmers and stewards of the land, need to put our money where our mouth is.  We may have the two most important jobs on the planet: producing food to feed the world and bearing responsibility for one of our most precious resources: the soil.  We need to take our claims of placing environmental stewardship ahead of profit very seriously.  Profit does not need to be at the expense of sound environmental practices;  they are not mutually exclusive.
Washouts were very common
this spring.
View of the perennial grass
from the top of the hill.
My father-in-law drilling in a
perennial grass mix over a washout.

One of our goals, as stated on this website, is to ELIMINATE erosion on our farm.  This is and will continue to be a very, very difficult goal to reach and maintain.  Our land has lighter, sandy soil types and quite a few hills, but where there's a will there's a way and we've made up our mind to make it happen.  With all the precipitation this Spring there were massive amounts of erosion in pretty much every field in our area and although we had much less than most we were not immune to it.  Not yet. One particular hillside had 4 separate washouts on it.  We decided to plant a perennial grass cover to hold the soil in place since they would likely continue to erode.  I know that some farmers dislike grass waterways through the middle of their fields and would prefer to operate end to end with no obstructions.  If the seed and fertilizer are washed away every year in these areas and nothing grows except weeds why would we not plant it to a perennial grass to hold the soil in place?

View from the bottom of Field 5.  Had this
field been conventionally tilled you would
likely be seeing a huge washout.

I did find some more promise in another field as well.  Our worst field, as far as soil type and slope, had no soil movement whatsoever and produced the highest yielding corn on our farm.  All of our corn fields had been strip-tilled this Spring and had at least some erosion down the strip in spots, but not this field.  This field (Field 5) is in it's 8th year of no-till/strip-till.  I felt guilty
strip-tilling it this Spring as it was the first time it had iron through it in 7 years. Field 5 has two predominant slope directions on different halves; one towards the south and the other towards the east.  I strip-tilled and planted perpendicular to each slope on it's respective half of the field.  This turned out to be a slight inconvenience throughout the growing season with field operations but with no erosion it was well worth it.   There is no doubt in my mind that had we done conventional tillage and not strip-tilled we too would have endured the massive amounts of erosion that were prominent in the area.  I strongly believe that the longer we continue to focus on the soil through the use of strip-till, cover crops, livestock integration, and rotations that we can get every one of our fields to perform like Field 5.  We have a plan for the future with crop rotations, cover crops, and a no-till/strip-till combination that we believe will get us to the point of eliminating erosion on our farm.

These are but a few small actions on a small farm and their significance in the grand scheme of things is minuscule.  Despite this fact, we believe that the way we operate our farm and focusing on soil health speaks volumes about us and what we represent. We will put our money where our mouth is.  I challenge you                                                                       to do the same.  Thank you for reading.

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