HAMILTON, NY — Sir Albert Howard said, “Fertility of the soil is the future of civilization.” It behooves the farmer to protect this soil investment that will ultimately enhance the environment, profitability and feed society. If you haven’t heard, soil health and its intricate biology are leading the way to a new green revolution. “We owe it to our children to know and appreciate the power of life,” says soil health guru, Ray Archuleta.
As winter approaches, soil protection is wrapping up throughout the Northeast and in the sensitive Upper Susquehanna River Watershed Basin from Allegany to Delaware County that contributes clean water to the Chesapeake Bay. The strategy of securing open corn silage fields and getting a cover crop growing before winter has been a priority for the Upper Susquehanna Coalition family of conservation districts and their farmers and agency partners for years.
The cover crop working group “promotes its use in New York State through facilitation of farmer-to-farmer communication, on-farm research, demonstration and dissemination of research findings, and to promote technical and cost-sharing assistance. They advance the development of these agricultural systems that are economically viable and energy efficient; improve soil and water quality; and enhance carbon sequestration and nitrogen use efficiency.”
“With our integrated approach using a National Fish and Wildlife (NFWF) Nutrient Management Grant paired with the USC Cover Crop Implementation Grant partially funded by NYSDEC; we have eclipsed 2,600 acres of beneficial soil cover in 10 counties,” said USC Ag Coordinator, Emily Dekar. “The need still far outweighs the funding capacity as more farmers are adopting this water quality practice. Our goal is also providing resources and tools to new farmers who want to give this soil health/fertility initiative a try.”
One of the champions in this effort is the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District. Now in its 5th season of planting cover crops for improving soil health, the district has eclipsed the 800-acre threshold with funding help from farmers, NYS Ag & Markets, The Finger Lakes-Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance and The Upper Susquehanna Coalition.
“The success is in the logistics and getting seed in the ground as soon as the corn choppers harvest the first plants,” said District Manager, Steve Lorraine. “To make this work cohesively, we work closely with Clinton Tractor Company for equipment rentals and Growmark-FS in Sangerfield to purchase over 40 tons of certified rye seed. We employ seasonal staff to plant non-stop with a 15 foot, John Deere 750 no-till drill. It also helps that we perform most of our own maintenance.”
“The District is trying to expose farmers and consumers to the new approaches in soil building techniques. It’s been a cultural mindset change to plant a green crop to feed the soil and then not harvest it. It’s a complex issue,” said Lorraine. “It’s a long-term investment that intrinsically helps but biological systems aren’t fully measured in terms of dollars yet. We’re definitely working on that so we can fully know if farmers would do it on their own accord without agency help.”
Certified Crop Advisor and Salesman for Growmark-FS, Jeff Case, commented that sales of seed and application for late summer and early fall crops have increased by 10 percent overall. “We see the opportunity for helping the next crop as well as enhancing the soil biology and reducing soil erosion. Visually, I can’t ignore what I see with the improvement in soil structure,” said Case. “It helps fertilizer dollars become more efficient in their use.”
Hamilton’s White Eagle Farm’s crop manager, Wendell Dickenson said, “We are believers in cover crops especially on high erodible soils.”
To access the Upper Susquehanna Coalition Conservation Tillage Initiative and the New York State Agronomic Cover Cropping Workgroup, visit www.u-s-c.org or contact Emily Dekar, USC Ag Coordinator at 607-972-2346.