WASHINGTON, October 11, 2012- USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will launch “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil,” a national education and awareness campaign, at the David Brandt Farm in Carroll, Ohio, today. During the press conference, NRCS Chief Dave White, NRCS Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby and Mr. Brandt will speak about healthy soil management.
NRCS noted that the Brandt farm “is considered by some to be the epicenter of the nation’s soil health movement.”
In addition to using long-term no-till on their corn, wheat, and soybean operation since 1971, the Brandts began incorporating other crops like hairy vetch and winter peas to the system in 1978. Now, Brandt uses several cover crops and multiple species, including cereal rye, barley and wheat to maintain more nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil.
Ohio State Extension specialist Jim Hoorman described Brandt’s efforts as ecological farming, or growing live plants on fields year-round to try to minimize the amount of disturbance to the soil. Instead of only having corn and soybean grow for four or five months, Hoorman said using cover crops for the remainder of the year boosts nutrients in the soil.
Plants harvest energy from the sun and a percentage of that energy is transferred through their roots to feed the soil and soil microbes, he explained. “If you have a corn and soybean rotation and only use sunlight one-third of the year, you only have that much energy into the soil.”
He noted that this drought year is an especially good demonstration of the benefits of ecological farming.
“Where we have high organic soils we get considerably higher yields,” he said. “It really helped this year in the drought to have this ecological farming concept. This year, if you can get an extra inch of water, that translates into higher yield.”
In areas like Brandt’s farm, where producers use cover crops along with no-till, the soil captures the water and “it soaks up like sponge,” Hoorman said. He emphasized the method calls for less fertilizer, is profitable for the farmer and helps the environment.
The benefits of this type of farming include reduced input costs, more productive soil and less nutrient runoff, Hoorman noted. “This eco-farming is one way we’re working to keep those nutrients on the land,” he said, including helping the quality of water in places like the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin.
“Our nitrogen use in fields without cover crops is 170 pounds an acre,” stated Brandt for the NRCS campaign. “Where we have cover crops and longtime no-till, we’re down to about 20 pounds an acre. That’s more than $100 an acre per year nitrogen savings, and we’re not sacrificing any yield.”
Although he experiments with different cover crops, Brandt noted that “you shouldn’t spend any more for seed on a cover crop than what you can gain in reduced fertilizer costs or increased yields. That’s always been our philosophy.”
The NRCS campaign is Brandt’s opportunity to share his trials with soil management, which Hoorman believes will be great proof for other producers. “A lot of farmers are seeing this,” he said, noting that Brandt’s soils changed from yellow clay to black, rich and high in organic matter. “He’s using less inputs for fertilizer and he’s been able to cut back some on his herbicide to control the weeds.”
Hoorman noted that healthy soil management awareness is important for producers and landowners. In an interview for the NRCS campaign, Brandt noted that “our landlords are tickled. We can show them how we’ve added organic matter to their soils and made their land more productive, and at the same time kept increasing their crop yields.”
The NRCS soil health education effort launches this morning on the Brandt farm at 11 a.m. EDT.
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