Farmers Work to Preserve Soil Health

ELECTRA, TX (KAUZ) - More Texoma farmers are using no-till, cover crops, diverse species, and rotations to increase the health of the soil.

More than 200 attended the Soil Health Short Course hosted by the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts, The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board.

On Feb. 23 a group of farmers and soil scientist toured a field outside Electra to see the benefits of the no-till method. Jule Richmond works with farmers across Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas as the Chairman of the South Central Region of the National Association Conservation District.

"Our intent is to educate producers of the advantages and to start looking at no-till farming," Richmond said.

As the Texas Soil Scientist for the National Resources Conservation Service, Allan Stahnke has seen the benefits of no-till farming especially in arid locations like Texoma.

"It's sort of like mimicking nature," Stahnke said. "We're still getting a crop but we are trying to mimic nature which is going to be good for the soil."

Richmond said plowing the land has been thought of as the best practice for decades. Farmers were always out in the field turning the soil and keeping it clean around their crop. Soil scientist said that may not be what is best for the soil. Stahnke said this is one of the reasons the NRCS has started the soil health initiative.

"Now we have realized that you can not do any plowing. You can leave the stubble on top of the ground that you can see out in this field here from last years crop," Richmond said.

He said the left over crop works as a mulch. It also provides shade to the soil preventing evaporation and keeping the soil cool. All farmers have to do is use the no-till drill to plant their row of crops

"What it amounts to is all that plowing all of the hours that was put on those tractors, no longer are necessary," Richmond said.

This method saves fuel and time. Richmond said it also leads to a better crop and better soil health in the long run.

A soil pit was dug in the middle of Terry McAlisters wheat field to show the benefits during the soil health short course.

"The biggest change we see is one you can't really see it but we measure it. You get an increase in organic matter," Stahnke said. "Plant need organic matter and carbon to grow. One of the biggest things is the water. The water infiltrates a lot better when you keep living roots, keep the residue on top."

"A real healthy soil profile you are able to see roots down three, four feet deep," Richmond said.

"These roots will start flowing down the structure," Stahnke said.

The roots feed the micro organisms in the soil and allow water to flow deeper.

"And it really turns into a win win for the producer," Richmond said.

Plowing would create a hard pan sometimes about 8 inches deep in the soil

"That's what we are trying to get rid of," Stahnke said.

"And those hard pans would not let moisture penetrate on down particularly in a semi arid zone like we are here," Richmond said

This would cause more water to runoff or evaporate unlike now with the no till method

"It's wet 4 feet deep," Richmond said. "Maybe five feet deep. That takes a long time in extreme drought to utilize all that moisture."

A NRCS soil survey can be found online.

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