Fall Conservation Practices Yield Year-long Benefits

Joe Christner, Water Quality Technician

August 22, 2018


On the way to work this morning, the early morning fog reminded me that it is late summer, and fall is around the corner. It is a great time of the year for many reasons. We are enjoying fresh produce from gardens and orchards, the weather is comfortable, and we can take advantage of many outdoor activities.

As the crops mature and harvest begins it is also a great time to evaluate management and conservation practices. Ask yourself, are there management practices I can change or try that may result in more profit and/or higher yields?  Are there conservation practices I can apply that may result in future benefits such as reduced soil erosion, improved water quality, and better soil health? In other words, what are the results of the management and conservation practices I am using and what could I change to get different results?

Some of the management practices you may want to consider are crop rotations that include small grains or hay, no till, reduced tillage, new and/or different varieties of seed, and farming on the contour. There are pros and cons for each of these practices and every farm is different. Changing or adding one or more of these practices may be beneficial to your operation in the future.

There are several conservation practices to consider that may have a big effect on your operation. Late summer and fall are a good time to apply or install many of these practices that can make a difference all year.

Planting a cover crop such as rye or oats into or after the cash crop is harvested is a practice with many benefits including reduced soil loss, improved soil health, reduced nutrient runoff, and improved water quality. Aerial application is one method to apply a cover crop seed to a growing crop. This is the ninth year for Holmes SWCD to coordinate an aerial program. During the week of September 4th the Fisher Ag Service yellow planes will once again be applying cover crop seed to fields in Holmes County. Many thousands of acres of covers crops will be broadcast or drilled after harvest as well. You might ask why you should plant a crop that you won’t harvest? Just remember the intense rain events of early last spring and the cost of the resulting soil erosion.

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Soil testing all your fields every three years provides the information you need to make accurate nutrient recommendations for your crops. Providing adequate nutrients for crop growth without over applying can improve profit and reduce the risk of the nutrient runoff from your fields. Nutrient runoff reduces water quality and is an expense with no return. Fall is a great time of year to take soil tests. Holmes SWCD has several soil probes and soil bags available and can assist you in sending the samples to a lab and understanding the results.

A grass waterway is another practice you may want to consider if you have fields with gully erosion from this spring’s intense rain events. Maybe you have grass waterways that have done their job and filled up with sediment over the years, causing gullies and erosion along the edges. Late summer, early fall may be a time to repair or install grass waterways in areas of natural drainage areas that erode. These projects should be completed by mid- September to allow the grass seeding to establish before winter. Holmes SWCD can provide technical assistance if you are considering a grass waterway.

If you have livestock and are applying manure another practice to strongly consider is a nutrient management plan. A plan is knowing how much manure you have to apply, the nutrients in that manure, where and when you are going to apply it, and at what rate per acre. The goal is to apply manure close to the growing season so the plant can utilize the nutrients from the manure and reduce the risk of runoff. If you have to apply manure during the winter, identify fields with low risk of runoff.

Cover crop fields reduce the risk of manure runoff and the cover crop may use and store nutrients to be released during the growing season.  Cover crops are a great way to reduce manure runoff risk.  Developing and following a nutrient management plan using the nutrients in manure for crop growth will reduce the amount of fertilizer needed resulting in lower cost of production. It also demonstrates your effort to protect the environment and improve water quality. Ashland and Holmes SWCD are holding a winter manure management update meeting on August 30th at 6 PM at the Ohio Theater in Loudonville. The meeting is open to everyone (at no cost), and we’ll even provide pizza. Call Ashland or Holmes SWCD for more information.

As you check your fields and begin harvest, observe the results of your management and conservation practices for 2018. Yield is one measure of course, but field and soil condition are also results that will impact future yields. Identify one or two practices that have the potential to improve next year’s outcomes. Apply them this fall on some of your fields and see if the results are any different in the fall of 2019.

If you would like assistance implementing any of these practices in your operation, please call Joe Christner at 330-600-3102 or Holmes SWCD at 330-674-2811, ext 3. See our website at HolmesSWCD.com and follow us on facebook for conservation information.

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Joe Christner, Water Quality Technician

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. Water quality, soil health, and conserving the resources needed for the next generation and beyond is very important to Joe.
Contact Joe at 330-674-2811 or jchristner@co.holmes.oh.us