From left to right, Hardin County farmer Jerry McBride, AgCredit CEO Brian Ricker and Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby place the first cover crop sign in McBride’s cover crop field which contains a mix of oilseed radish, hairy vetch, and cereal rye. NRCS photo by Dianne Johnson.
As Mark Twain once said, “Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.” Recently, in Ohio, the staff of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), put that advice to work: rather than trying to communicate broadly, they took their message on the road, visiting with farmers face-to-face to talk about the importance of cover crops on improving water quality.
For two days this past summer, 400,000 Toledo, Ohio residents dependent on safe drinking water from Lake Erie could not use their water for drinking, bathing or washing. Toxins from algae contaminated their water, exceeding the city’s water treatment facilities capacity to remove it. Boiling the water only concentrated the toxin. No one knew how long this would last. Read more »
Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and Adlai Schetter in front of a test plot. NRCS photo
If you ever wonder about the future of agriculture, go no further than Brighton, Illinois. Just 10 minutes with 15-year-old Adlai Schetter will reinforce that stewardship of private working lands is in good hands. It will also convince you that cover crops and second generation biofuels are a dynamic part of our agricultural future. On the day I visited with Adlai at his parents’ farm, he summed up his vision in a professional PowerPoint presentation to an audience of more than 20 state and federal officials.
Adlai spends a lot of his free time researching the effectiveness of different cover crop seed mixes that include rye and radishes. After his formal presentation, we walked over to his test plots. I asked him if he’s determining which cover crop work best and he responded that “they are like players on a football team, they each have important roles.” Adlai understands how to make these cover crops work for him. While other farmers may be looking at bare fields this winter and early next spring, Adlai and his parents get to watch their cover crops scavenge nutrients, improve soil porosity and suppress weeds. This frees up time for Adlai to spend on another passion – the second generation biofuel miscanthus. Adlai puts his harvested miscanthus to work fueling a burner that heats a cavernous building that houses farm equipment and the farm’s office. Ten bales a day of miscanthus and corn stover keep the building a comfortable 72 degrees throughout the cold Illinois winter. This winter he will experiment with using even less fuel. Asked if he gets any school credit for all this work, Adlai responds, “not really.” Read more »
Farmer David Brown poses next to one of his giant pumpkins. Healthy soil is key to the success of Mustard Seed Farms. Photo courtesy of NRCS.
Oregon organic farmer David Brown didn’t start off growing 400-pound pumpkins, but every fall they hold a prominent place on Brown’s Mustard Seed Farms. Starting out as a 26-acre farm in Marion County, Oregon, Brown has grown his diverse, organic operation to 80-acres while also achieving large gains in soil health.
“Our name, Mustard Seed Farms, comes from Scripture where faith is a grain of mustard seed that God will bless, and we will grow, and that’s exactly what’s happened,” Brown said. He’s grown the size of his farm and giant pumpkins by first growing the health of his soil. Brown gathers his strength from above – but does have some help from below from groups like USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Read more »
Tim Mullek and his family, who grow cotton, peanuts, soybeans, wheat, and corn on about 2,500 acres in the Fish River watershed in Alabama, plant cover crops on all of their cropland. NRCS photo.
Days before planting season in April, up to 26 inches of rain had fallen in southern Alabama over a span of two days. This rain event caused historic flooding in Baldwin County in a coastal part of the state, where farmers had freshly tilled fields in preparation for planting crops.
These tilled fields lost valuable topsoil during the flood. But the outcome was different for Tim Mullek and his family, who grow cotton, peanuts, soybeans, wheat and corn on about 2,500 acres in the Fish River watershed, located about 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Read more »
Members of the Moldovan Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry listen to a USDA presentation on no-till and minimum-till management programs during a meeting at the Agriculture Department. NRCS photo.
Moldova’s minister of agriculture and food industry, Vasile Bumacov, recently visited with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to learn more about no-till and minimum-till systems – and how the agency supports farmers wanting to implement them.
NRCS briefed Minister Bumacov on technical and financial assistance programs that promote the use, by American farmers, of no-till and minimum-till systems, where crops are grown with little soil disturbance and the soil is kept covered with crop residue to conserve soil, water and energy. The assistance from NRCS provides U.S. farmers guidance and funding in putting these systems to work. Read more »
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer Kevin King (right) explains an edge of field water quality monitoring station to Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby, farm owners Joe and Clint Nester in the Western Lake Erie Basin near Bryan, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The device allows tracking of both surface and underground water moving thru field tile. Monitoring stations results help determine what may be best farming practices on different types of soil in the watershed. USDA photo by Garth Clark.
USDA has a long history of investment in water quality and quantity issues. Still, Toledo, Ohio Mayor Michael Collins issued an emergency water advisory leaving about 500,000 people without clean tap water to drink or cook with from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4. The reason for the advisory: toxins produced by algae in Lake Erie got into the city’s water supply. Residents were forced to rely on bottled and trucked-in water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth. The Lake Erie algae bloom incident shows we all have a lot more work to do to ensure adequate water supplies for now and into the future.
In response to the algae bloom incident, USDA leadership, represented by Terry Cosby, NRCS state conservationist, joined Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Marcy Kaptur, this week to immediately announce $2 million in new federal emergency funds to reduce runoff in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Read more »