Hey ya’ll this is Tessa and Farmer from JTL farms and the blog From My Farm and Table. We own and operate a no till grain farm in Oldtown Valley, the next valley over from Shana and Jonathan at Angel Family Farms. We’ve recently had the opportunity to farm their cropland. They’ve asked us to share with you a little about the exciting improvements were making in soil management.
Soil is a natural resource that is not easily made, therefore protecting its health and structure is extremely important. We protect it using soil management practices such as no till, cover crops, and variable rate technology (VRT). Lets take you through a typical farm year to show you how we use these soil management practices.
In the spring we hire our local co-op to pull soil samples. They use GPS coordinates to take samples at the same places in every field every 3 to 5 years. This allows us to accurately monitor the soil progress in the fields. It will tell us the fertility levels, overall health, of the soil. The co-op then designs an application map based on those samples. Areas of the fields are shaded in colors corresponding to the amount of amenities, lime and fertilizer, that the shaded area needs. The nutrient applicator, which is a tractor with a bin, will then apply only the necessary amount of amenities. This whole process is called VRT and prevents over application of amenities.
Now its time to plant, right? WRONG! The fields have too many weeds growing which will provide competition for our young crops. Because we are building soil structure and saving fuel by not plowing and using a no-till system, we use herbicides to control weeds. For many folks this may through up a red flag. Why would we use herbicides to control weeds if we could just plow them under? Remember, a no-till system allows us to save one of our most important resources, the soil. We use only the minimum amount necessary of the herbicide to do the job. Imagine this; we use only twenty-two ounces of active ingredient mixed with water over an entire acre. That’s less than a pop bottle worth of herbicide over an area equal to the size your house might sit on. Now our fields are clean and ready for the planter. Great care is taken when completing this task. Each seed is placed gently and uniformly in the soil then covered and tucked in using specialized equipment. We want every seed to grow at the same rate to ensure a healthy and productive crop. Now we wait!
After much anticipation harvest has arrived! A good no-till system starts at harvest. As the combine rolls through the field harvesting the crop it sorts out the grain from the chaff and crop residue. This residue must be cut and spread evenly out of the back of the combine to ensure a good seedbed is started for next year’s crop.
At our farm we try to harvest fields that are prone to erosion first. This allows us to utilize another tool in our no-till system, cover crops. Fields prone to erosion might include acres on a slope or acres along a creek or stream. Harvesting these acres first gives us ample time before colder weather to get a cover crop planted and growing. For us we plant winter rye. It is hardy and fast growing. Rye can grow just about anywhere and doesn’t require much finesse. It also competes well with weeds, choking them out in many cases. Now our bare soil is bare no more! Instead it goes into winter and the rainy spring season with a green cover on it. Cover crops have many other benefits other than erosion control. Remember we mentioned soil structure and health? When soil has nothing growing on it, life below the surface slows or stops all together. Tiny microbials need plant tissue and living roots to survive on. These microbials work to break down plant residue, building the soil. However this is a slow and tedious process. Having the cover crop alive in the soil over winter allows this process to continue. Also this activity in the soil allows earthworms to remain well fed and active. The worms move through the soil like tiny aerators opening pockets and channels for water and nutrients to be absorbed. The list of cover crop benefits goes on and on. For our farm we have only begun to scratch the surface with cover crops and we look forward to next summer when will plant tillage radishes as a cover after wheat. The tillage radish will grow a large tuber and tap root reaching several feet down in the soil. This will break up any hard pan and compaction in the soil without the use of mechanized tillage equipment. Stay tuned to hear more on that next year!
Thank you Angel Family farms for allowing us to share with ya’ll today about these important aspects of our farming operation. Any questions comment below. Both us and the angels’ strive to use our farms and blogs to educate the public about the real food and farm story.