Things I Can Change

As I drive around Holmes County and surrounding area I sometimes work at my part time job: “ Road Farming” My wife has identified this job by asking the question,” Do you want me to drive so you can road farm?” Apparently I don’t multi task well.

As I see the crops in the fields being stressed by the by the hot, dry weather this year I remember the helpless feeling I had in 1988 when I saw our corn and hay fields dry up in the drought. I remember praying for rain, but as bad as I wanted to I could not make it rain then and as much as I would like to, I can’t make it rain now. Just like then we talk about it and check the radar constantly and rain always seems to go somewhere else.

As I think about that I am reminded of a well known quote from the serenity prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr I have identified one of “the things we cannot change”.

Now I would like to identify one of “the things we can change.” Organic matter can improve your soil’s water holding capacity. If you have been following some of the current soil health information you may have seen this factoid:

“Things we can change” to maintain or improve organic matter. Building soil organic matter is a long-term process but can be beneficial. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Reduce or Eliminate Tillage: Tillage improves the aeration of the soil and causes a flush of microbial action that speeds up the decomposition of organic matter. Tillage also often increases erosion. No-till practices can help build organic matter.

  • Reduce Erosion: Most soil organic matter is in the topsoil. When soil erodes, organic matter goes with it. Saving soil and soil organic matter go hand in hand.

  • Soil-Test and Fertilize Properly: You may not have considered this one. Proper fertilization encourages growth of plants, which increases root growth. Increased root growth can help build or maintain soil organic matter, even if you are removing much of the top growth.

  • Cover Crops: Growing cover crops can help build or maintain soil organic matter. However, best results are achieved if growing cover crops is combined with tillage reduction and erosion control measures. A good supply of soil organic matter is beneficial in crop or forage production. Consider the benefits of this valuable resource and how you can manage your operation to build, or at least maintain, the organic matter in your soil.

 I wish I could tell you that improving organic matter will keep your crops from stress and yield loss in a dry year but it still has to rain to replace water in the soil. But maintaining or improving soil organic matter is something we can do to retain more of the water when it does rain.

Interested in learning more about  organic matter and soils water holding capacity? Check out the following links:


Joe Christner came to Holmes SWCD in 2001 with experience and knowledge drawn from 20-plus years of dairy farming. He grew up on a small farm near New Bedford, Ohio. His background interest and involvement in agriculture from the time he was a young man give him an empathy and understanding of the needs and concerns of today’s farmers. Joe can assist you with conservation plans for your farming operation, including nutrient management planning and record keeping.  He will provide information on cover crops in your rotation which will improve soil health and reduce erosion. Water quality, soil health, and conserving the resources needed for the next generation and beyond is very important to Joe.  He and his wife, Nina, have two daughters and five grandsons.  He is involved in many areas of service at New Pointe Community Church.Contact Joe at 330-674-2811 or