To improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, farmers and forest landowners are using conservation systems that reduce nutrient and sediment runoff.
A vibrant and healthy agriculture sector is a critical component of restoring and improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and I’m proud of the steps that our Bay-area agricultural producers are taking to protect this national treasure. Agricultural producers have implemented nearly $1 billion worth of conservation practices on 3.6 million acres – an area three times the size of Delaware – since 2009 with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
From coastal communities in Virginia and Maryland to the hills of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, farmers and forest landowners are voluntarily making conservation improvements to their land that reduce erosion, manage nutrients and protect stream corridors – all contributing to cleaner water downstream. We celebrated the accomplishments of producers today at Y Worry Farm in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, bringing together producers, agricultural groups, non-government organizations and others to celebrate these investments in cleaner water. Read more »
The aerial cover crop conservation practice involves a helicopter swooping over corn fields, releasing winter rye seed from a hopper swinging beneath the chopper.
Samantha Whitter represents the fifth generation at Whittier Farms in Sutton, Massachusetts. Her family’s 500-acre, 100-head dairy farm is one of the largest in this small town 10 miles south of Worcester—the second largest city in New England, after Boston.
Samantha’s dad, Wayne Whittier, signed up for aerial cover crop seeding offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The conservation practice involves a helicopter swooping over corn fields, releasing winter rye seed from a hopper swinging beneath the chopper. To a bystander, it might look like an air show or a crime scene investigation, but it’s actually a very controlled seed application that uses a Global Positioning System (GPS) to track the helicopter’s flight path and precisely map where seed was distributed. Read more »
(L to R) Mark Denk, CVTC; Dan Prestebak, Dunn County Land & Water; Katie Wantoch, UW-Extension; John Sippl, USDA-NRCS; and Leah Nichol, Dunn County Land & Water proudly promote soil health and water quality through education and demonstration at the Red Cedar Demo Farm.
In Menomonie, Wisconsin, there is a 155-acre, three-parcel farm, whose purpose is to educate and demonstrate natural resources conservation. As part of their curriculum, Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) Agricultural Program students perform farm work there in an outdoor classroom environment.
“The Red Cedar Demonstration Farm gives students a hands-on opportunity to plant, scout fields, monitor growth, harvest, write nutrient plans, take soil samples. Really, it’s a full farm laboratory for students,” said John Sippl, Dunn County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist. Read more »
Steve Siverling narrates his journey in soil health.
NRCS thanks Steve for sharing his firsthand successes with cover crops. Our goal is to share ideas on how to implement soil health principles and cover crops on your farm. Steve Siverling has seen many benefits on his farm through the use of cover crops including increased soil structure and organic matter, less soil compaction and erosion, improved water holding capacity in the soil, improved quality of crop test weights and protein, less purchased fertilizer inputs, potential grazing during fall and spring, increased wildlife habitat, weed suppression, and breaks in pest cycles. “Steve is an active member of our NRCS farmer network with cover crops in Chippewa County and has done a great job networking with other farmers and helping NRCS advance the soil health movement one farm at a time,” said Tammy Lindsay, Chippewa County District Conservationist.
My name is Steve Siverling, and I plant corn, soybeans and a few small grains on 350 acres in northern Wisconsin. But what I am growing is soil health; I am a biological farmer.
I began my soil health journey and evolution to a biological farmer 20 years ago when I purchased 80 acres near my farm. The soil pH was low, around 5.5, and there was less than one percent organic matter. I couldn’t make immediate improvements to the land that would allow me to plant a crop that could tolerate those conditions, but I had to try something. Read more »
Jessa Kay Cruz of the Xerces Society (with net) examines wild bees along with participants at the Lockeford Plant Materials Center’s Open House in April 2015. Photo by Amber Kerr.
All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.”
There are many ways that farmers can use plant cover to mitigate and adapt to climate change. To learn climate-smart practices, farmers can turn to resources like USDA’s Plant Materials Center in Lockeford, California (CAPMC) which is one of 25 PMCs nationwide. Established in the 1930’s to help with plant-based tools to combat the Dust Bowl, the PMCs test, develop, and deploy plant mixtures and cultivars to solve conservation challenges. These challenges include soil erosion, water and air pollution, riparian degradation, loss of wildlife habitat – and now, climate change. Read more »
Sheep graze on cover crops in a Montana State University sustainable farming study. Photo courtesy of Montana State University.
Environmental and economic management of weeds and pests is a priority for organic farmers and they typically use tillage to address these issues. However, frequent mechanical tillage can reduce soil integrity, which increases costs for farmers and negatively impacts future crop growth. Now, Montana State University (MSU) researchers are studying an alternate technique to manage these issues—domestic sheep.
Instead of using traditional tilling machinery or herbicides, MSU’s project features domestic sheep that graze farmland to eliminate the cover crop and control weeds. The study will determine if an integrated animal and crop production system is an economically feasible way to reduce tillage for certified organic farms. Read more »