Are we protecting “Our Soil” as the times change?

As I drive the countryside of Holmes County after 32 plus years of working with landowners discussing Conservation, I ask myself if we are being better stewards now than in the past.  A lot has changed in Holmes County over the past 30 years. Bigger equipment, more technology, better genetics, better herbicides, changing of crop rotations are just to name a few.    With all the change, I still see we need to do a better job of protecting our most valuable resource to agriculture “Our Soil”. 

I decided to look back at some of my initial training in the early 80’s in conservation to see what is happening. My first step was to review the 8 land classes that we used as a tool to work with landowners. 

Class 1- These soils have few limitations that restrict their use. 

Class 2- Some limitations that reduce choice of plants or require some conservation practices.

Class 3- Severe limitations that reduce choice of plants or require special conservation practices, or both

Class 4 - Severe limitations that restrict choice of plants or require very careful management, or both

Class 5- Limitations other than erosion that are impractical to remove, usually wet.

Class 6-Servere limitations, use largely to pasture, woodland, or wildlife cover.

Class 7- Very severe limitations, usually unsuited for cultivation; use restricted largely to grazing, woodland, or wildlife

Class 8- Not suited for cultivation, pasture, or forest. Wildlife and recreation best use. 

A large portion of Holmes County cropland falls in Class 3, 4, and 6 due to slopes ranging from 6-25%.  With these restrictions, longer rotations including small and grains and hay, farming on the contour, and even using contour strips were the norm back in late 70 early 80’s.  No till farming was then introduced to even reduce erosion more by incorporating another conservation practice along with the several already in place.  Soybeans (low residue crop) was almost not existent in 1982 as the Census reported 695 acres reported in Holmes County. 

As no till allowed for less erosion due to the adequate cover, a number of contour strips were removed along with small grain or hay removed from the rotation and a number of fields were converted to continuous No Till Corn. (Planting directly into residue without any tillage).  This conservation practice still provided adequate cover due to the large amount of corn stocks left on the surface to keep soil loss to a minimum.  As time move forward, many producers started to insert soybeans in the rotation.  Again, Soybeans were no tilled into Corn Stalks and the Corn was no tilled directly into soybean stubble.  This practice increased soil loss but still met the tolerable soil loss calculations.  Now, many fields with this rotation appear to get additional tillage prior to planting to expose the soil to excessive erosion. 

My second step was to look at the 1982 and 2012 Census Data. Acres show a large increase in low residue crops like corn silage and soybeans and a reduction of higher residue crops like small grains in the rotation. 

                             1982                                                 2012                                  Acres Increase/Decrease

                             28,797                 Corn                    32,186                                          +3389

                              7,085                  Corn Silage         11,118                                          +4033

                                 695                  Soybeans           18,088                                       +17,393

                              7,608                  Wheat                1,718                                            -5890

                             12,556                 Oats                       5,451                                          -7105

                             38,695                 Hay/Grass          40,200                                          +1505  

As I look back to the definitions of the land classes and how the crops have changed in Holmes County over the past 30 years, I encourage everyone to determine if they are doing all they can to protect their soil by reducing or restricting choice of plants and using special conservation practices and very careful management on Class 3, 4 and 6 land. 

Cover crop is a good conservation practice to help reduce erosion.  However, with a more intensive rotation on steeper slopes, several practices including extending the rotation, reduced tillage will be needed to bring soil loss to a tolerable level. 

Holmes NRCS/SWCD staff are available to work with landowners and operators to discuss and prepare a Conservation Plan that will help you protect your soil for the future generations.  You can contact us at 62 W. Clinton St., Millersburg, Ohio 44654 or call (330)674-2811.

Chuck is the District Conservationist for Holmes and Coshocton counties with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.  He began his career as a summer trainee in 1981 with the Soil Conservation Service and has been located in Ashland, Delaware, Harrison, and Fairfield counties prior to moving to Holmes County August of 1984.  He graduated from The Ohio State University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture.   Chuck is married to Beth (Oswald) and resides near Berlin.  Chuck and Beth have two sons, Luke and Cole located in Columbus.  He also has a 215 acre farm in Knox County that he owns in partnership with his dad and brother. Many conservation practices have been implemented and maintained as part of the operation. Contact Chuck at 330-674-2811 or