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While members of the Carroll County High School FFA cooked hamburgers and hot dogs, the Carroll County Soil Conservation District held its annual field day Thursday in the shadows of the grain-drying and storage bins owned by Christ-man Farms in Preston-ville.
District Conserva-tionist Paul Veech talked about an incentive program that pays farmers to establish “filter strips” along water-ways that carve through their crop fields. Through the Conservation Reserve Program offered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, farmers can receive an annual rental fee for setting aside strips of land of various widths, Veech said. Farmers in the program rent the land for 10 years.
These strips of land help filter fertilizers and other chemicals used on adjacent cropland from runoff rain water, thus preventing them from entering waterways where they can damage the environment.
Veech said field strips usually are established in low-yielding sections of cropland. So, through the program, farmers are paid not to plant crops in areas that don’t produce well, anyway. “It’s probably a win-win for everybody.”
Veech admitted that the program, so far, hasn’t resulted in the improvements NRCS had anticipated. “For years, we’ve had this technology. We hoped to see tremendous improvements. But, water doesn’t run out of a field evenly,” Veech said. “So, we’ve talked about [incorporating] other practices. We won’t give up. All of us are working together to reduce the nutrients that are getting into the rivers and into the Gulf of Mexico” to reduce environ-mental damage there. “We need to reduce pollutants [in the water-ways] by half by 2025.”
Soil conserva-tionist Matt Norfleet discussed the concept of im-proving soil health through grazing and cover-crop manage-ment. By using specific cover crops between corn and soybean rotations, he said, farmers could manipulate soil to provide the nutrients needed for each crop. In turn, this can reduce the amount of applied nutrients required each year.
“The best thing you can do for the soil is to keep a plant growing in it,” Norfleet said. Farmers should consider warm- and cool-seasonal grasses that they can use for grazing livestock. That “makes it even more practical,” he said.
Norfleet explained that the micro-organisms that feed on sugars released at the ends of plant roots provide as much as 50 percent of the nutrients in soil. Raising the percentage of nutrients returned to the soil through cover crops also helps the soil retain water for grain crops, he said.
To determine which crops to plant each season, farmers must conduct soil tests and take into consideration which crop will be planted next.
“Think before [planting] the crop, not after,” he said. For example, if corn is up next in rotation, “you don’t want to go heavy into rye. They are both from the same species,” which means the rye will take away the nutrients needed for corn, rather than replenish them.
Cover crops also can help manage soil compaction, Norfleet said, adding that a farmer should determine the depth of the compacted soil and plant accordingly. Plants have different root depths. The deeper the roots, “the less contraction and compacting,” he said.
Conservation District Chairman David Rowlett said adopting soil-conservation practices will enable farmers to use more of their cropland and improve yield.
That’s important, he said, because by 2050, experts say the Earth’s population will reach 9 billion. “Every day, 219,000 babies are born. At 1,200 calories a day, one acre feeds 15 people. That means we need 14,600 new acres every day to feed the rising population. In the United States, we are losing acres every day to urban sprawl and industry. We’ve got a lot of hungry people in the world. If we don’t do something to conserve and enhance the soil, we’ll have a lot of hungry people in the U.S.”
Rowlett said a nutrient-training seminar is planned for Oct. 15-16 for livestock producers and others in Carroll and surrounding counties. Also, at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, the district is hosting a tour of farms in the county that have implemented these conservation practices, which is open to farmers and the public.
Following the meal, Kevin Christman gave a tour of his family farm’s grain-drying and storage system.
Christman, who lives in Madison, Ind., and raises corn and soybeans in Kentucky and Indiana, said each of the three large storage units holds 120,000 bushels of dried grain; a smaller storage unit holds 50,000 bushels of grain that has not been dried.
Keeping in mind the proximity of his neighbors in Prestonville, Christman said he chose to install a centrifugal drying system, which operates more quietly than other systems.
The system can dry 2,650 bushels per hour, or 40,000 bushels a day. Grain is stored in the units until January or later. The benefit to storing grain is that producers can sell it when supplies are lower and prices are higher.
Christman said much of the corn he produces is sold to ethanol plants and that he is hoping to start selling grain to distilleries. This year, he has been contracted to grow seed wheat for Pioneer Seeds.
He said he plans to build a fourth large storage bin next year and, eventually, add four more. At that point, “there will be almost 1 million bushels of storage” at the facility, he said.
Additionally, Christman is building an 80-foot by 200-foot building for storing equipment. Another 80-foot by 120-foot building also is being planned at the site.