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Soil health workshop

Harrington, DE
January 15, 2020

The Sussex Conservation District (SCD) and the Delaware Soil Health Partnership recently held a free soil health workshop on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 during Delaware Agriculture Week at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington.

Over 160 agriculturists learned how to rev up soil health to increase profitability and productivity. Guest speakers shared the latest research and trends for implementing conservation practices on leased acres, speeding up the payoff of soil health management systems and keeping a living root in the soil 365 days a year.

Sarah Everhart, legal specialist and managing director at the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative, says that, “conservation practices are less prevalent on leased acres” and cites several obstacles such as “a lack of communication, leasing uncertainty and … a lack of knowledge about agriculture and conservation practices.”

There are questions that both parties must ask to determine if implementing conservation practices are right for the farm; however, the lease type and terms can help offset the implementation and maintenance costs to make the agreement more equitable.

Everhart says leases should be thought of as a tool and, “in order for a lease to be used as an effective tool [it] has to start with communication.” Everhart states leases should be simple and “reflect what is actually happening on the farm.”

Hans Kok, program agronomist at Indiana INfield Advantage, warns that many farmers soils have lost organic matter as a result of traditional farming methods and illustrated ways to regain soil fertility.

 “If you look at the first foot of topsoil, in healthy soil, the weight of all the biology, earthworms, nematodes, fungi, bacteria, is about the weight of ten cows. You have an acre of ground and you have 15,000 pounds of life underneath there and … we need to treat the land like it needs to be fed,” says Kok.

“Healthy soil is hard to measure but really easy to show. When you pull a plant out and it looks like Rasta hair … it means you have healthy soil” Kok said.

To improve soil health you must reduce disturbance, keep soil covered and always have something growing Kok urges. Research has proven that cover crops coupled with no-till practices increases output, reduces fertilizer inputs, increases water holding capacity and improves aggregate stability.

“In some instances, farmers have cut chemical costs by 80 percent,” he said. Disease is down, there is more weed control, higher yields and nutrients are tied down to the land, not washed away Kok reveals.

Loran Steinlage, owner of FloLo Farm in West Union, Iowa, advocates for keeping a living plant in the soil year-round. Steinlage has adapted centuries old techniques into his modern-day operation; intercropping and companion planting, practices not traditionally utilized with row crops. Steinlage pushes relay cropping to the next level by cycling up to three crops in the same field. He states that interseeding provides “living soil armor” making crops resilient to temperature and moisture extremes. These practices have substantially increased the soils moisture retention and nutrient density while reducing input costs.

Steinlage urged attendees not to “take anything [said] up here today as gospel” because it needs to be adapted to work in your situation. He continued, “Mother Nature is illiterate, she can’t read your plans.”

 For more information including presentation materials visit www.sussexconservation.org/resources/news or call 302-856-3990 ext. 3.

 About the Delaware Soil Health Partnership:

 Founded in 2014 through SCD, the Delaware Soil Health Partnership provides workshops and field days throughout the year to help farmers develop farm specific strategies to improve soil health.

About the Sussex Conservation District:

The Sussex Conservation District is dedicated to serving Sussex County by providing technical guidance and financial assistance to enhance, maintain, protect and improve land and water resources. For 75 years SCD has worked with cooperating landowners and managers of private working lands to help them plan and implement effective conservation practices. For more information visit www.sussexconservation.org.

 

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David Baird, district coordinator at Sussex Conservation District, welcomes guests to the soil health workshop at the Delaware State Fairground in Harrington on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

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Guest speakers, from left, Hans Kok, program agronomist at Indiana INfield Advantage, Sarah Everhart, legal specialist and managing director at the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative and Loran Steinlage, owner of FloLo Farms in West Union, Iowa, presented during the soil health workshop at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

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Sarah Everhart, legal specialist and managing director at the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative, provided guidance on implementing conservation practices on leased acres during the soil health workshop at the Delaware State Fairground in Harrington on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

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Hans Kok, program agronomist at Indiana INfield Advantage, showcased soil transformations during the soil health workshop at the Delaware State Fairground in Harrington on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

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Loran Steinlage, owner of FloLo Farms in West Union, Iowa, presented his experience with no-till and relay cropping during the soil health workshop at the Delaware State Fairground in Harrington on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

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Over 160 agriculturists attended the soil health workshop at the Delaware State Fairground in Harrington on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.