By Matt Reese
For those interested in improving soil health, today’s field day at David Brandt’s Fairfield County farm has it covered. For the more than 270 people packed into Brandt’s spacious farm shop, cover crops are the focus of the day in presentations from national leaders on the extensive benefits of including a bit more biodiversity in the crop rotation.
Ray Archuleta, with USDA-NRCS in North Carolina, gets very excited about soils and provided a very enthusiastic demonstration with simulated rainfall on soils with different management practices. The results clearly showed the benefits in the demonstration that Ohio Natural
Resource Conservation Service state agronomist Mark Scarpitti said translates directly into benefits in water quality and soil productivity in Ohio fields.
In addition, an internationally recognized soil health consultant Jill Clapperton talked about the benefits of combining different cover crops in the same fields.
“Plant roots interact with each other. This is about plant chemistry and plant interaction. Plants are great defenders. They are actively making sure that everything around them is benefiting their growth,” she said. “This creates a habitat for what is
happening below the ground. The roots modify the habitat so it can recycle nutrients, hold water and do all of these great things.”
“You have all of these blends of plants out there and each one does something slightly different. These plants are changing their own community to suit themselves. This creates wealth for farmers and healthy food for the rest of us. We’ve got the capability to do this now and all of you here today have the willpower.”
There were several key take home messages from the event.
“Basically, we need to keep the soil covered. The microbiology in the soil is much more important than what we’ve given credit to in the past as far as nutrient recycling and the health of the plants,” Scarpitti said. “There are a lot of different functions of soil microbes for the plant. In the past we have kind of looked at our soil as a chemistry set where we take nutrients out with crop removal and then we put them back on to build up that fertility. But looking at the microbial activity puts a whole new dimension on soil fertility.”
It also provides potential for increasing farm profits and benefitting the environment.
“I think that healthy soils go hand in hand with healthy streams. The key point is that if we can build the soil organic matter and increase water infiltration, we’ll have less run-off and less nutrient loss and more water holding capacity,” he said. “I am very encouraged by the numbers of farmers who are at these meetings who are here to learn about soil health.”
Dr. Randall Reeder gives an overview of who was in attendance at the field day.
NRCS’ Scarpitti covers some of the takeaways from the Cover Crop Field Day.
Soil Scientist Rick Haney is with USDA ARS talks about the advances in soil technology.