Conservation takes center stage

FOSTORIA – Partners in a Conservation Innovation Grant sponsored an agriculture conservation day Tuesday to give research updates on the use of cover crops, edge-of-field research studies and progress on a nutrient tracking tool.

Making Informed Decisions to Improve Your Bottom Line took place at the farm of Dwight and Lisa Clary, 5800 N. SR 635, Fostoria.

In summer 2013, the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University received a grant of more than $590,000 from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to continue research into nutrient tracking by encouraging best management practices.

NCWQR has led a three-year project in collaboration with the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition, Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research, Tarleton State University, IPM Institute of North America, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service and the five soil and water conservation districts in the Sandusky River watershed.

During his presentation Tuesday, Rem Confesor, research scientist with the water quality center, said the goal of the grant is to improve soil health and reduce nutrient and sediment exports from agricultural land.

“That’s our overall goal and our hope,” he said.

Through a project led by Kevin King, a researcher with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, field data is being collected to demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of types of best management practices.

The funds also are assisting with Confesor’s calibration and verification of an Agricultural Policy Environmental eXtender model – or APEX – and a Soil and Water Assessment Tool – or SWAT.

Confesor said the project also includes calibrating and verifying an online Nutrient Tracking Tool for the Great Lakes Basin as well as promoting its use and training producers on how to use NTT to estimate farm yield and nutrient loss.

“This field day is part of the training aspect,” he said.

Confesor demonstrated different results from entering various types of data such no-till versus tillage systems.

“You can see a big difference between till and no-till,” he said. “That’s why I would agree a no-till crop is more resilient in drought conditions.”

He also compared water infiltration rates for spring and fall tillage and organic matter in the soil.

“Median organic matter in the county is about 2 percent,” he said, “Some fields have less than 1 percent and some as high as 6 percent.”

Confesor said training sessions are planned for late winter where farmers can learn to find their farm using Google Earth technology, and how to input their own farm data such as terrain, soil type, weather and agricultural practices such as tillage or no-till system, fertilizer type and other variables.

“All that is being calculated by the model,” Confesor said. “Almost all the practices we can think of we can use in the model.”

Farmers can save data on their own computers, but data is kept confidential and not saved on the model.

Three people who work with King on edge-of-field studies updated the group on the study’s progress.

Katie Remora explained the scope of the project and how results are compared by using paired fields, and Jed Stinner gave examples of results found in recent data.

“A lot of phosphorus is coming out the tile,” Stinner said. “Before you apply your phosphorus, know what you need to put down in the first place.”

He also recommended minimizing stratification of phosphorus in the soil by incorporating it into soil instead of leaving it on top.

During a cover crops update, Dwight Clary of Clary Farms/Center Seeds, said he’s been using cover crops for more than 30 years.

“We have watched our soils improve through this long period of time,” he said. “It’s incredible, the improvements.”

Clary, also a proponent of no-till farming, said the combination of cover crops and no-till is ideal.

“If you burn up your organic matter, you’re left with powdered rock,” he said. “The only thing that builds organic matter is biology.”

Cover crops help build organic matter, he said. In turn, organic matter feeds beneficial soil microbes and earthworms, helps to hold water in the soil and takes up nitrogen and other nutrients, capturing them for use later by crops.

“Tillage burns organic matter faster than you can build it,” he said.

But farmers shouldn’t expect quick results.

“We didn’t tear these soils up overnight and we’re not going to repair them overnight,” he said.