Soil and water

Even in these high-tech times, farmers still find old-fashioned networks useful.

June 26 — Call it old school networking.

They could do it through Zoom, YouTube, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or many other ways people are using technology to stay connected to each other in 2021.

And they do, to some extent.

If you’ve ever visited a modern farm, you’ll find that farmers are some of the most computer-savvy and technologically advanced people, whether it’s communicating with each other through chat groups or flying. drones over fields to search for insects, weeds, or signs of plant diseases.

Still, there is something to be said for simple face-to-face communication and just bringing people together in a barn to chew the grease on the farming issues that concern them.

That’s kind of the idea behind the Wood Soil and Water Conservation District‘s monthly From the Farm meetings.

The district organizes such brainstorming sessions when it is not the planting or harvest season. All he needs is a farmer ready to receive people for a few hours.

It’s pretty laid back business: no formal agenda, no keynote speakers, no demagoguery, and no strong sales pitches. It is about frankness of oneself, not about anyone’s prepared testimony.

At best, there’s only one topic or two to start the conversation.

If someone deviates from another topic, well … too bad.

The idea seems to promote camaraderie and camaraderie.

Julie Lause, district administrative and outreach manager, said there were also no huge expectations in terms of participation.

Attendance varies from 3 to 30 farmers.

It was on the small end last Wednesday night, with three farmers in what was the first such gathering in 16 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mike Aring, 70, who operates a farm in Webster, Perrysburg and Center Townships, and Scott Apple, 56, who operates a farm in Liberty Township, met at the farm owned by Kris Swartz of the Township of Perrysburg for a discussion of the joys, challenges, concerns, and frustrations of growing cover crops as a way to enrich the soil while helping to reduce the flow of agricultural nutrients forming algae into ditches and ditches. stream leading west of Lake Erie.

There has been a lot of writing about cover crops in recent years, especially following the 2014 water crisis in which nearly 500,000 residents of the Toledo metro received water from the tap poisoned by an algal toxin from the lake the first weekend of August.

The toxin, microcystin, was so intense that it violated normal containment at the Collins Park water treatment plant in Toledo after being sucked into the city’s raw water intake.

Cover crops – which can range from radishes to rye – had been planted by some farmers in northwest Ohio long before the 2014 water crisis, but not enough to make a noticeable difference in crop quality. lake water.

And, as the trio of farmers said at Wednesday’s meeting, they’re not getting as widely adopted as they could be for a number of reasons, starting with the additional costs they require. for seeds, labor and management – and not knowing whether it will be short or long term benefits for their soil.

“It’s largely a matter of faith,” Mr. Swartz said.

Organic matter from cover crops certainly helps in the short term.

But it’s unclear exactly which cover crop combination is best and even what qualifies as a cover crop, the trio agreed.

Mr. Apple pointed out that some farmers have yet to buy cover crops for a reason much more fundamental than economics or soil science – their grandfathers were not planting them.

“They never did it because grandpa didn’t,” he said.

Cover crops are one of the big programs being pushed by the DeWine administration’s H2Ohio program, and the three farmers who attended Wednesday night’s meeting – along with dozens of others – are planting them.

But the trio also agreed that cover crops, while useful, aren’t Lake Erie’s only salvation, and it’s hard to predict how much or for how long they’ll be adopted once the incentive money is paid. H2Ohio will be exhausted.

“It’s hard to sign up for a four-year program when you don’t know what the markets or the weather will be,” Swartz said.

Planting them requires a bit of magic and cooperation from Mother Nature to get started.

The general goal is to plant winter cover crops in September, in the same fields and almost at the same time as cash crops like corn and soybeans are harvested.

The idea is to have cold-tolerant plants in the soil before winter so that they are sufficiently established in the spring to help absorb nutrients into their root systems.

Dorothy Pelanda, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, told The Blade in previous interviews that her department has so far been overwhelmed by the response H2Ohio has had with farmers, including the offer. financial incentives for planting cover crops and participating in some of the other best management practices.

Farmers sign up for different farming-based H2Ohio practices and must demonstrate compliance to be compensated.

Mr Swartz, who is part of a state task force making recommendations for better techniques, said there is likely to be plenty of money left for years to come as many farmers have grown too ambitious. and signed up for more practices than they’ll likely finish.

He said the first year compliance rate should be around 70 or 75 percent.

“If we can get 70 to 75 percent of the dollars spent in the first year, I think that’s good,” he said.

Jim Carter, the administrator of the Wood Soil & Water Conservation District, said the state’s deadline for planting cover crops is October 15, with the expectation that the plants will be fully established by the March 15.

Mr Apple said such deadlines may deter some farmers, who are tired of trying to keep these and other rules.

“The arbitrary deadline could hurt what you’re trying to do,” he said.

Cover crops are still a new enough concept for farmers as they are playing with different types, trying to find the right mix and what best suits the specific soil needs of their land.

Mr Apple said he feared some farmers would “give up before they start”.

“There are no experts in the world of cover crops,” he said. “We are all learning.”

First published on June 26, 2021, 1:09 p.m.

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