Sunday, April 22, 2012

Every Day is Earth Day On Our Family Farm

My daughter is great about asking questions that lead me to blog. (Remember, she was the one who ask about green french fries?) Today after church she says, "Mom, its Earth Day, why didn't we celebrate?" My response? "Honey, we're farmers, we celebrate Earth Day every day!"

OK, so that sounds rather corny, but really, that's the way it happened.

So let me tell you why our farm celebrates Earth Day every day. As stewards of the land, we have numerous farming practices that preserve and improve our soils and protect our environment.

Let me share some of our conservation efforts with you:

1. Our farm voluntarily took over 100 acres of farm land out of production and put them into conservation practices. These acres are adjacent to woods, ditches, ponds, waterways, and streams. This leads to less sediment and nutrients from getting into the water. It takes sensitive acres and takes them out of production protecting the larger environment around them. Not only does it improve water quality, but it also provides enhanced habitat for wildlife.

2. We installed grassy waterways and buffers larger than required. This enhances filtration of the water through the field to a wider buffer and further limits the likelihood of nutrients reaching the waterway.

3. Part of our farm is across from the town cemetery. The corner of that field is very low ground and not productive. We planted it in wildflowers and warm season grasses which when in bloom, will be free for the picking.

4. We take tissue samples of our crop foliage to determine the nutrient status of the crops (sort of like you getting a blood draw at the doctor's to check your cholesterol and other health indicators). This allows us to prescribe a "diet" for the crop that it needs, no more, no less. It allows us to target certain nutrients the plant needs. While many people take a multi-vitamin "just in case" (which by the way leads to higher nutrients in the water too), we feed a specific diet to our crops based on the results of the plant tissue analysis.

5. I have previously blogged about our new "GreenSeeker" technology. We used this technology recently in our small grains (wheat and barley). The GreenSeeker detects the chlorophyll in the plant tissue and tells us what the nitrogen needs of the plant are. We reduced our nitrogen application by 7-15 pounds per acre using this technology. This application is called "variable rate" meaning the technology senses when less is needed and cuts down on the amount of fertilizer applied as you travel across the field. This may not seem like alot of savings in fertilizer, but when you add it together with the total number of acres, it is quite a savings in the total amount of fertilizer applied.

6. RTK is an auto-steering system that we have in our tractors. The Earth Day advantage of RTK is that it guides our equipment with "sub-inch" accuracy, virtually eliminating all overlap in seed and fertilizer applications and preserving precious resources and enhancing our environmental control systems.

7. Cover crops are probably our largest contribution to land stewardship and therefore Earth Day. These are often called "green manure". We put over 1000 acres under cover in the winter. Cover crops are planted in the fall and are designed to take up any left over nutrients remaining in the soil after the previous crop is harvested. Instead of just leaving the field fallow for the winter, cover crops bind the nutrients and immobilize them in the plant. When we burn down the cover crop in the spring, those nutrients become available to the spring crop that we are currently planting.

8. No - Till is probably our second largest contribution to land stewardship and Mother Earth. 90% of our land is not worked up at all and the other 10% is either in permanent perenial crop such as the vineyard or we use conservation tillage equipment to prepare the soil. Using no-till, we do not work the ground up but plant directly into the plant residue left over from the previous crop. The Earth Day advantage of no-till farming is that you do not expose the soil to the risk of erosion.

So Happy Earth Day! Our family farm is celebrating it by continuing to be good stewards of the land we have, doing all that we can to leave it in better condition for the next generation.

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