Farmer Wayne Erickson, now 83, and his current tractor. (NRCS photo)
Our trip to the Erickson farm in Milan, Illinois involved a three hour drive through pouring rain. But once we arrived, the rain stopped and the sun made a partial appearance. Because we had about 40 partners, guests, and several media reps invited, I called it divine intervention.
Secretary Vilsack was here to announce the national Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) awardees, using a multi-generation Illinois farm as a fitting and picturesque backdrop. The family took the Secretary on a short driving tour to show all they’ve done to protect their 100 year-old farm. Read more »
The University of Kentucky is using a Conservation Innovation Grant to improve the efficiency of seasonal high tunnels. NRCS and UK staff view a water line with a high tunnel in the background. NRCS photo.
Seasonal high tunnels have emerged in the past few years as an important tool for farmers wanting to extend their growing seasons. Right now, thanks to a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA, a University of Kentucky professor is studying them – and how they can be made more efficient.
Krista Jacobsen, an assistant professor of horticulture, is studying the soil inside of high tunnels and the possibilities of catching rainwater to irrigate crops inside of them. High tunnels are plastic-covered structures that enable farmers to have crops ready earlier or later in the season. Read more »
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks to winners of the 1st International Soil Judging Contest during their visit to USDA on Aug. 18. American college students took the top two places in the first ever international competition.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hosted the world’s eight best soil judges last week after they earned the top spots at the 1st International Soil Judging Contest in Jeju, South Korea, in June. The Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Science Division was actively involved in organizing the event and mentoring the winners. The first and second place teams, both from the U.S., along with their coaches, participated in a roundtable discussion with Secretary Vilsack and NRCS Chief Jason Weller to talk about soil judging, the importance of soil health, and careers in soil science. In addition, NRCS’ Landscape Architect, Bob Snieckus, led the students and coaches on a tour of USDA’s green projects, including the rooftop garden and The People’s Garden.
It was the first international soil judging contest, but soil judging in the United States dates back to at least 1960. The events involve the description, classification and interpretation of soil, with the main purpose of helping students recognize important soil and landscape properties and to consider these characteristics when deciding how to use soils. A contest involves “judgers,” or students interested in soil science, entering a soil pit to examine the profile. The judgers then determine where the different horizons are and describe each one, looking at factors such as soil type, color, depth, consistency, shape, structure and other features. The soil is classified, and site and soil interpretations are performed. Read more »
Cheryl Mackowiakl strolls through rye on the Fulford Farm adjacent to Brock’s property.
It started as an informal gathering of interested extension agents, agronomists, farmers and staff of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, who came to Gainesville, Fla. to attend an Internet-based conference sponsored as part of this year’s soil health campaign.
But much of the information was based on Midwestern experience. Everyone knows Florida is different, with sandy soils and a longer growing season.
So perhaps it wasn’t surprising when the Gainesville group suggested taking the discussions further. In a flurry of emails, the follow-up meeting evolved into a small tour of cover crop practitioner Kirk Brock’s farm, and then grew to include neighboring Fulford Farms. Read more »
Phalla Nol, Nancy Faulkner and Jim Faulkner in front of the high tunnel.
When Jim and Nancy Faulkner bought their small farm in Boxborough, Mass. in 2009, the place was a mess. Buildings were falling down, the soil was poor and the land was covered with invasive plants. Nonetheless, they wanted to turn it into a sustainable farm.
Help came from two very different directions: a government agency and another small farmer.
“I really needed a farm plan,” said Jim Faulkner, who wanted to ensure he complied with town bylaws. “I wanted to show that I was serious and that I had a plan.” Read more »
These two farms have the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. The difference is that one farm uses many conservation practices that help improve soil health helping it thrive through extreme weather conditions. NRCS photo.
Soil health is always important, but extreme weather in the last few years has shown landowners just how important managing for it really is.
“The vital part of soil is topsoil, which unfortunately is also the part most susceptible to the effects of weather. That’s what makes protecting it so crucial,” said Doug Miller, soil health coordinator with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Minnesota.
The top two components of topsoil are clay content and soil organic matter that hold nutrients and water for plant use and growth. Read more »