County Conservation District promotes No-Till-Drill, Cover Crop programs
By MARY ANN BOWER
For The Express
MILL HALL — Over the past century poor farming practices have severely damaged crop fields in the state. These poor practices have created accelerated erosion which has caused valuable topsoil to erode out of the fields and into local streams and rivers.
Pennsylvania has many progressive farmers who are changing their practices to benefit soils on their farms. Creating healthier soils helps farmers produce higher crop yields and requires less expenses, such as fertilizers. A farmer’s good practices not only benefit the farm but also benefit everything downstream of the farm by preventing less soils and nitrogen from reaching our waterways.
The Clinton County Conservation District devotes much of its time in encouraging and promote farming practices that benefit soil health and water quality. A program that the Conservation District promotes for our local farms is our No-Till Drill program. No-till planting is really as it sounds; it is the practice of planting crops without tilling or disturbing the land before you plant. By not disturbing the soil with a plow or till, less erosion takes place and the soil stays where it belongs, which is in the crop fields instead of in our waterways.
With No-till planting, healthier soils are created. Plowing or tilling disturbs the natural organic material that the soil creates, which causes the loss of valuable nutrients. Plowing also compacts the soil, which does not allow for water to infiltrate as easily; which in turn causes crops to dry out more quickly and causes more runoff. The District believes that no-till planting is a major key to soil health.
The district has two no-till planters available to provide to local farmers so they can implement this new way of planting their crops and establish better soil health. The planters are available for use by any farm operation large or small. The smaller planter has a gas engine mounted on it and can be easily pulled by horses. The larger planter needs to be pulled with a decent size tractor. It’s extra length and weight helps provide a more efficient planting. These drills can be directly delivered to the operation by the District, or they may be hauled by the farmer.
Another practice that goes hand-in-hand with soil health is the use of cover cropping. This is the practice of planting a crop after your main crop to establish a cover through the winter months. This practice is done to attempt to mimic nature. Naturally vegetation will grow on soil that is undisturbed. When something is always growing, the growth provides a cover for the soil by lowering the impact from rain water. It also provides root masses to help hold the soil in place and to ultimately help prevent erosion from occurring. Cover crops are meant to be planted immediately following the harvest of the main crop, to get growth established before the winter months so the soil is held in place and protected. Cover crops also allow for better infiltration in the soils. While the cover crops grow the roots grow deeper into the earth allowing water to reach deeper, as well. They also act as a good weed control. All farmers would agree that when crops are not growing in the field – nature will plant something, which in many cases are in the forms of weeds or invasive plants. While you have a cover crop growing, it chokes out weeds, preventing them from becoming established. The Conservation District no-till drills can also be used to plant cover crops.
In addition to providing no-till equipment for planting crops and cover crops, the District is also largely involved in providing education about soil health. The district hosts various events to discuss no-till planting and cover crops. We have events such as a farmer’s breakfast to allow local farmers to get together to discuss soil health and talk about what worked and what didn’t work at their individual operations. Some events host guest speakers to discuss the new innovations in soil health. Winter is a good time to start to plan for next year’s crops. To learn more about the Clinton County Conservation District’s no-till program and cover crop program or to discuss ways to benefit from soil health and water quality on your operation, contact us at 570-726-3798 or on the web at http://www.clintoncountypa.com/departments/conserve/.
Mary Ann Bower is district manager of the Clinton County Conservation District.