Our special Owasco for the citizen
Last year, farmers experienced one of the wettest fall seasons on record in the region.
“The rain is falling harder, faster and all at once,” said Sam Rose, a cattle rancher in Groton. With increasingly unpredictable and intense weather events, it is more important than ever to build the resilience of our food and agricultural systems. Local farmers in the Lake Owasco watershed are tackling this problem by implementing farming practices that improve soil health on their properties.
Good soil health is essential to withstand heavier rains and longer dry spells, while providing a range of environmental benefits such as reduced erosion and runoff into local lakes. To support these efforts, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, in partnership with the Our Owasco Project, hosted a series of soil health workshops on local farms.
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At the meetings, farmers and industry professionals come together to hear presentations on strategies to improve soil health. Equally important, farmers have the opportunity to discuss and exchange knowledge with each other.
Representatives from Cayuga County and Tompkins County Districts are on hand to help guide the conversations and offer assistance with their knowledge of best management practices.
The first workshop was facilitated by the Tompkins County District and hosted by Marlindale Farm in Groton. Considering last year’s weather patterns, the impact of extreme rainfall was a focus of discussion.
Sam, who attended the session, said: “For many years I took the last two weeks of vacation in June and harvested my very first cut of horse quality hay.” He explained that due to less predictable rainfall, “these days it’s in the air, and you can’t predict when you’ll be able to harvest it all.”
Greater variability in planting and harvest dates highlights the need to mitigate risk in any way possible. Soil health practices are an important part of the equation when creating a field that is more tolerant of extreme weather events, and local farmers know it. Healthy soils are able to act like a sponge, absorbing more water during heavy rains and also increasing water availability during drier periods. This means less runoff into our streams and lakes, and healthier crops.
Despite widespread adoption of best management practices, continued extreme rainfall means farmers are constantly reassessing their practices and evaluating their tillage, manure storage and nutrient management programs to prevent erosion and runoff. soils.
“We can’t predict what will happen in the future, but we can look at weather patterns over the past few years to better understand what to expect in the future,” said natural resources program specialist Paul Gier. in Tompkins County. district. “We have seen more extreme rain events in recent growing seasons, so we need to be prepared for these events in the future.”
Workshops like these are designed to help farmers access the information they need to continue adapting their operations to future conditions and to help farmers learn from each other.
The second Soil Health Meeting was hosted by Patterson Dairy in Auburn. The event was hosted by the Cayuga County Conservation District and featured presenters who spoke about the importance of understanding the local context when considering soil health practices. Jason Cuddeback, Pasture Specialist and District Certified Crop Advisor, was one of the session presenters.
“We covered a number of different topics during the day, including how farmers can test their soil health, what practices they can adopt to improve soil health, and what to avoid when looking at soil structure and nutrient runoff,” Jason said. “Also on the agenda was cover culture; we talked about how planting a cover crop has a range of benefits, including preventing nutrient runoff, increasing primary crop yields, providing an additional source of nutrition for livestock and increasing soil fertility.
Members of the Cayuga County and Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation Districts are excited about upcoming farmer-led discussion workshops, with another session scheduled for mid-February. If you are a local farmer and would like to attend these sessions, please contact your local district for more information.
You can find more information about these workshops, soil health practices, and what your local farmers are doing to protect the watershed at tompkinscountyny.gov/swcd or cayugaswcd.org.
Our Owasco is a project to work with farmers in Cayuga and Tompkins counties to recognize and accelerate their efforts to adopt agricultural practices that protect Lake Owasco. The project is funded by The Nature Conservancy in partnership with the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, Cayuga and Tompkins Counties Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Cornell University and the American Farmland Trust.