Ground work on soil

Staff Writer
A Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil scientist said soil conservation and health is currently the top priority for the government entity.
Steve Baker, who was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the Auglaize Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) annual meeting, election and banquet held at the Wapakoneta High School cafeteria, told the crowd that government entities and farmers and other workers in the agricultural industry are getting more serious about soil and water conservation, but the idea has been around for some time
“With our current campaign being social health right now, it is the first time it has been our top priority,” Baker said during the 67th annual meeting. “I’m not the first person to recognize it.”
Baker quoted documents including one as early as 360 BC when Plato wrote several papers on the need to conserve the soil.
Baker said George Washington also spoke of sterile soil from overuse and that George Washington Carver’s famous work for use of the peanut was because of the depletion of soil due to growing cotton.
He also quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said “the nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.”
Baker said the three main threats to soil were floods, earthquakes and man, and focused on man-made problems and solutions for the purpose of his speech.
“A problem we have had is the failure to recognize soil as a finite resource,” Baker said. “For years we have worked the land rather than work with it. Soil cannot be replenished by natural processes faster than we can erode it. We have been slow to adopt new methods — old habits die hard.”
Baker said the industry has stepped up conservation efforts exponentially over the last several years through several new methods which are seeing results.
Farmers are beginning to rotate their crops more often, which he said helps soil health by varying the root systems and fungal networks in the soil.
He said farmers are taking more notice and working with planners to make decisions on what products to grow on the land they own.
He also mentioned the increasing awareness and popularity of no-till farming as well as the use of cover crops is a big step.
“We used the moldboard plow to farm for thousands of years,” Baker said. “No-till was viewed with suspicion and distrust. Many farmers felt they needed to reserve their soil and water for their main crop.”
Baker said the root system of cover crops has helped because it goes into the soil and helps break it up, allowing the land to absorb water and nutrients better. He shared this helps prevent the land from hardening and running the soil and nutrients off of the land during drainage.
Baker closed his speech by experimenting with farmland from three farms in Auglaize County. He poured water into specially designed cups that caused the water to drop like rain onto the three samples.
The sample that used conventional tilling immediately showed runoff that had lots of sediment and little absorption in a pan set underneath. In the second sample which had been farmed with the no-till method, the runoff and absorption seemed to improve, and runoff on the third sample, which had used both no-till method and cover crops, most of the water was absorbed and the reduced runoff was nearly as clear as it had been when the water was poured out.
In closing, Baker encouraged all farmers to work out a plan to conserve their soil and keep it healthy.
“Eliminate tillage and use cover crops,” Baker said. “Control the traffic patterns to reduce compacting the soil, and resist the urge to want to till halfway through. It is also always good to have a good nutrient management plan.”