Many opportunities are available in Ohio for farmers, land owners, and ag business folks to learn about farming practices that seek to improve the health of soil on the farm, and the quality of water that happens to leave the farm. Three are happening in the next few weeks.
The Conservation Tillage Conference is March 2-3 at Ada (ctc.osu.edu). The All-Ohio Chapter of SWCS has a conference March 14 at the headquarters of the Ohio Dep’t of Agriculture in Reynoldsburg (fabe.osu.edu/OhioSWCS). A No-Till Field Day will be on April 6 at Dave Brandt’s farm, near Carroll in Fairfield County (OhioNotillCouncil.com).
In addition, County Extension Educators, Soil & Water Conservation Districts, and others host dozens of local events on cover crops, soil health, management of manure and chemical fertilizers and other conservation topics. Farmers who learn and follow the science-based practices shared at these events are leading the way toward a time when agriculture as a whole will be seen as a good neighbor.
The cost of erosion
Rick Cruse, Professor of Agronomy at Iowa State University, found that soil erosion is costing Iowa farmers (and probably Ohio farmers) more than they think. “We’re losing much more soil than we think because not all types of erosion are part of the models that estimate soil loss. And if you want to keep soil in place, you’re not going to do it by growing only corn and soybeans, no matter how many conservation practices you use,” Cruse said. “The best science indicates that we can redevelop soil at a rate of only a half-ton per acre per year.”
Yet most agencies consider five tons per acre as acceptable, or tolerable. The continuing net loss of topsoil over a century or more means a tremendous loss in dollar value of crop yields.
Voluntary vs. mandatory
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently published an article critical of voluntary programs that have cost billions of dollars without long term benefits in water quality. EWG suggests, at least in Iowa, that all farmers be required to adopt four mandatory practices, where appropriate: grassed waterways; filter strips along all water bodies; controlled access of livestock to all water bodies; no application of manure to frozen, snow-covered, or saturated ground. EWG points out that one problem is a lot of money is spent on practices that are abandoned a few years later, canceling the benefit.
An example of questionable investment might be paying farmers to plant cover crops for three years, with no requirement to continue good conservation practices. Even worse, I heard of a farmer who received over $50 per acre to plant cover crops after wheat harvest then in November plowed the ground because he said his planter would not be able to plant corn through the cover.
Rick Cruse is convinced that farmers using practices that conserve soil and water resources are often at a short-term economic disadvantage. He says another issue, as stated by a farmer, is this: “On my own land, conservation is an investment. On rented land, conservation is a cost.” In Ohio and most of the Midwest, about half of farmland is rented.
(Much of the information above is courtesy of Tom Buman at Agren. Sign up for his messages at: http://www.agrentools.com/blog.)
Policy and principles for conservation agriculture
At CTC, March 2, at 11:00 a.m., you can participate in an exciting, lively panel discussion. On the panel are: Bill Richards, Barry Fisher, Mark A. Rose, and Jim Moseley. Dave Russell (Brownfield Network) and I will be Moderators.