Ecologically-friendly farming practices and promoting natural pollination can improve farm conditions
Agricultural producers have been given both the gift and the responsibility to be good stewards of the land entrusted to them.
In an age where farmland and wilderness areas have been reduced by urban development, it is more important now than ever to properly and sustainably care for the resources still available to us. The best part about being a good steward is that good choices for the land will often result in long term performance and financial success for the producer as well.
Protect the Soil: Soil is the lifeblood of farming and part of being a good steward of the land is protecting and preserving the soil.
This means reducing erosion and runoff and increasing soil fertility. Planting cover crops such as wheat, turnips, oats or cereal rye is a sound management choice to protect the soil via the root system of the crops, while also providing additional forage for grazing and potentially making use of row crop fields that might have otherwise sat fallow to produce a second crop in the form of silage or to be used for grazing livestock. If you have row crop fields, plant cover crops for fall grazing,” Jill Scheidt, agronomy field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension suggested. “Most cover crops should be planted in August or early September, so corn fields are often used.”
Planting cover crops also gives the producer the opportunity for “green manure,” where the crop is tilled under to increase soil fertility and prepare fields for traditional crop planting.
This reduces the need for synthetic fertilizer. Using no-till drilling is another good stewardship practice, as it reduces fossil fuel consumption and minimizes damage to the soil. The Natural Resources Conservation Service conducted a study to compare the fuel usage between conventional tillage practices and no-till practices and found that “on average, farmers practicing continuous conventional till use just over six gallons of diesel fuel per acre each year. Continuous no-till requires less than two gallons per acre. Across the country, that difference leads to nearly 282 million gallons of diesel fuel saved annually by farmers who practice continuous no-till instead of continuous conventional till.
It is not just less fuel usage that can be a benefit from moving to no-till practices, but better forage growth as well. “No-till allows seeds better contact with soil than broadcasting,” Scheidt explained.
Aid the Pollinators: Pollinators should be in the forefront of any stewardship management program. Avoiding harmful pesticides when possible or at least minimizing the effects will encourage pollinators to stay present. Adding beehives to the farm will ensure that producers have pollinators and can also provide value added products to sell like honey and beeswax.
Avoid Wasting Water: Water is essential to all life and making stewardship decisions that fully utilize this valuable resource benefits the entire operation. Creating a bioswale, like the one built through a collaboration between Springdale, Ark., and the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, which is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, can help manage stormwater. Planting water efficient grass species can help keep water on the farm.
Dirk Philipp, associate professor of animal science and forage researcher for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, suggested producers evaluate how rainwater interacts with the landscape, such as observing where water collects, and consider planting grasses like millet or sorghum-sudangrass to create buffer strips that impede water runoff.