You may or may not have heard that there is a new NRCS district conservationist in the office after Rod Kuykendall moved on. If you have not had a chance to stop in and meet me, please do. Hi! My name is Erika Turner.
We are working busily these days with NRCS program sign-ups while waiting to hear news about the Farm Bill. If I could tell you anything that you do not already know about it I would.
In the meantime, while we wait to see what happens and wait for spring to arrive, I would encourage you to continue planning for the future of your operations. One area that maybe has not crossed your mind is improving the health of your soil.
Perhaps you are wondering how much of an impact that has. Soil health matters because healthy soils mean high-performing, productive soils with reduced production costs, and less nutrient loading and sediment runoff while sustaining wildlife. To quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”
So, what can we do? Get back to the basics of how things used to be done while embracing today’s technology and farming systems to address current problems such as feeding an ever growing world population. There are four basic soil health principles: 1. Use plant diversity to increase diversity in the soil; 2. Manage soils more by disturbing them less; 3. Keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil; 4. Keep the soil covered as much as possible.
Planting cover crops – recognized by farmers many years ago as a good farming practice – fits the basic principles of soil health. Farmers and gardeners alike can improve soil health with cover crops. The benefits are numerous:
• Restoring soil health – increasing organic matter, improving water infiltration, serving as natural fertilizers (legumes).
• Natural resource protection – protecting against erosion from heavy rains and strong wind, trapping excess nitrogen keeping it out of runoff, and releasing the nitrogen later to feed growing crops.
• Livestock feed – providing additional grazing or haying opportunities.
• Wildlife habitat – providing winter food and cover for birds and other wildlife, and providing food for pollinators during the growing season.
Cover crops are typically planted in late summer or fall around harvest and before spring planting of the following year’s crops. Many plants, alone or in a mixture, can provide cover and each has its own impact on soil health.
Tempted to try them but a little concerned about spending money on something new? Are there other concerns you have as well? NRCS has program money to assist with these concerns. Stop by our office and talk with us. We can assist you in planning for the future in these areas, offer ideas and solutions, and may be able to give you a little money as well.
Erika Turner is the district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Princeton Field Office.