Monday, November 26, 2012

Why Tillage and a Plow?

It has been a long time since I plowed a field. Plowing gave way to conservation tillage then no-til in my life time. Watching the Ken Burns/PBS documentary entitled "The Dust Bowl" has gottten me thinking alot about soil, tillage, and government. This blog post looks at the tillage part mostly.

Plows are massive and expensive

The teethe lift and shatter the soil

I recently plowed a field with what I call a chisel plow. the tool is designed to lift and shatter the soil more than turn it over in a effort to cover weeds and stalks. Vertical tillage is helpful because it minimizes the amout of "smearing" that occurs when steel is drug through a clay based soil. This smear stops the movement of air and water through the soil and in turn hurts the bioligic life that is important to the health of the soil. Think of what clay looks like on a potters wheel. The smear seals off the poors of the soil. That is not what I want to do.

Steel smears clay

the porous soil is what I like to see

What I want is a soil profile that is porous enough to allow air and moisture to move. Air and moisture promote the life of a soil, earth worms, bacteria, and all sorts of other things, not the least of which is root development. Roots are amazing things. You may have seen a tree growing on what looks like solid rock, just imaging what it can do in a porous soil.

stuck a straw completel through this worm hole in a clod

marked holes with straw sticks

Another disadvantage of the plow is the lose of "trash", old dead plant material on the surface of the field that protects the soil from erosion caused by wind, rain, and snow. This trash is a bank account full of nutrients for the coming years' crops. Plowing disturbs that flow of material back to the soil. A rain drop falls from the sky with alot more force than you might think. Something like 26,000 gallons equals a 1" rain on an acre. Think what that much wieght falling from way up in the sky does to the soil when it hits. Trash protects the soil from that impact just like an umbrella protects your head and turns the rain into a gentle water drip.

corn leaves alot of trash

beans leave some trash (notice the corn stalk from a year ago)

So why did I plow this field? Plowing destroys weeds, loosens the soil, and levels the surface. In my case I wanted to loosen and level. Weeds just aren't a reason to plow any more since modern herbicides can stop weed growth without the disadvantages of the plow. The photos don't show it well but this field had numerous channels left from where subsurface drainage tile had been installed two crops before. These channels were changing how water flowed across the surface during heavy rains, preventing it from reaching the grass waterway designed to handle those rain events, and restricted the ability of machinery to move easily across the field. Tillage became the option of last resort.

trench seen in taller stalks center running lower left to upper right

grass waterway upper center to center right and in previous picture

I hope this blog helps you understand just a little more about why I do what I do out on the farm.

Also reference my previous blog Modern Day Dust Bowl

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Modern day Dust Bowl

I recently took some pictures of the neighbor putting lime on his field. The spreader truck that applies the lime is likely equiped with a GPS system that ties back to the soil test I described in my blog post "The Soil is Alive". Both these activities trace back to the teachings of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts that were birthed as a reaction to the Dust Bowl. A view of this history is documented in the PBS series "The Dust Bowl", produced by Ken Burns that aired recently. So much of modern agriculture reaches back to the Dust Bowl/depression generation which in affect said, "we want food to be abundant and cheap and sustainable so our kids don't have to go through this."

The process is kind of dusty, since the material (lime) arrives as a very fine powder. It is fine so that it will dissolve or interact with the soil in a timely fashion.

the lime arrives in semi-trucks, is dumped in piles in the field, then scooped up and loaded into the spreader truck by an industrial payloader. This loading takes only a couple minutes. My picture is taken as the very last scoop or two of a large pile is gathered and loaded. Lime is applied in tons per acre and a semi load will be about 24 tons. So a large field can require an impressive pile of lime.

Lime is used to control the molecular acidity of the soil. The acidity of a soil determines what plants will grow well. Soil acidity is a natural response to many environmental things. Rainfall, organic matter, drainage, macro-climate, etc. all impact the soil over time. Here are some helpful links written by experts that better explain the process. Cause and Effect of Soil Acidity and When and How to Apply Lime

This is just the tip of the iceberge of knowledge that I use daily in my stewardship of the land entrusted to me by God to protect, preserve, and sustain for the future.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Soil is Alive

One of the great responsibilities of a pig farmer is to protect the living organism which is his field. Did you realise that fields, dirt, is alive?

It really is.

Bacteria, worms, all manner of bugs, and other biologic things live in the soil. This is why, when you get a cut and it gets "dirty" you are given an antibiotic (biologic). A healthy field is teaming with healthy soil. So how do you keep a field healthy?

One basic step is the "soil test".

 We (and most other farmers I know) test soils about every three years on my farm. As crops are removed a part of the soils fertility goes with it. As manure is spread on the field, in this case from the hog barn in the background, fertility is added back to the soil. The soil test is to see if those two things a in balance or not.

It can be back breaking work

The process starts after harvest with a man or women, a strong back, a big foot, and a soil core sampler.

The core sampler is driven into the ground

The left overs from the crop just harvested contain nutrients that will decompose and become part of the soils nutrient profile as well. These left overs protect the soil from erosion during the winter and coming summer.

core samples are collected in GPS identified bags

These samples will be tested in a laboratory and a report produced that shows the soil conditions for each collection point. This information then is used to develop a plan for nutrient management for the next three year cycle.

Each bag has   5 cores from a GPS point to form an average at that point

You can start to see why a strong back is important. Each bag represents about 5 acres.

even this machine still gets tiresome getting in and out

The ATV is a gift from God to the people doing this work.

 It is a combination of hard work and really smart soil scientist that help me manage all the nutrients of a field to keep it in excellent health. Here is an article that explains alot more about the really smart people that are working on this management issue This is an important part of how I fulfill my responsibility as a steward of the land for myself, my family, my neighbors, and the generations to come.

Thanks for thinking about my field with me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

GMO at the Farm

With the election behind us I can now turn my attention to the ins and outs of my responsibility as a farmer to use GMO seeds in a proper and approved way. Here is what came in the mail today.

From Monsanto comes this helpful educational literature.

TUG stands for Technology Use Guide and is 24 pages of topics on Insect Resistance Management, Integrated Pest Management, Weed management, Best practices, etc.

IRM is Insect Resistance Management. This is 18 pages of instruction on how to use GMO's in a way to perserve there usefulness by not creating an environment where the insects will adapt and become resistant.

The other two sheets are a cover letter and license to use technology and a quick reference card for in season use.

As a farmer, I try very hard to know and follow these management instructions because the technology is very helpful to me and I don't want to lose it through poor behavior.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How the Rural Vote


When it comes to voting, and attitudes connected to voting, I can only speak for myself. I really don't know if others see these topics like I do or not. With that said I would like to share with you how voting happens where I live and vote (Clark County, Madison township (rural), Ohio). I suspect it could be quite different where you live. It would be fun to compare.

the first Presbyterian Church (behind a house used for church offices)
Our poling station is in The First Presbyterian Church on main street. Why a church? I really don't know. The "powers that be" have decided this in years past. It used to be at the elementary school library, then the Catholic meeting hall for years, now its at the First Presbyterian Church.
The door with no sill
Rumor has it that the church is used because it is one of the few buildings in town that is fully handicapped accessible. Meaning that our doorway doesn't have that little aluminum sill that so many doors have. Apparently, that sill restricted people's access to voting. Never mind that you can vote by mail from the comfort of your own home. But that is another topic.
The Funeral Home
It could be as simple as the Church parking lot is the largest paved and lighted lot in town. Or it could be the central location on Main Street between the funeral home and the AmVets hall, both of which "borrow" the lot for their big events. No one cares. Some church members are probably involved in any of those events anyway.
the Amvets hall
We vote down stairs in a basement classroom, this is new this year. We have always voted upstairs in a side section of  the church sanctuary. I like the basement better. Santuaries are not really made for the contentious issues of voting.
stairs/chair lift to voting

Madison Twp rural to the left

We  show our picture ID's, or a utility bill, etc. at our poling station. I don't know what happens this year since there has been such a commotion about this topic nationally. Doesn't mean much here. The election workers at the desk likely know who you are anyway. It might be a retired teacher you had in school, a coach, a local businessman, or whoever. The precinct is not so big. I voted at 9:30 A.M and was number 102. My daughter voted at noon and was number 207. Seems like turn out was very heavy. She had to wait in line for 15 minutes.

To get to the voting area you have to go past the "Election Day Salad Bar" that the church sponsors as a fundraiser for the "Womens Association". The Womens Association uses the funds for various projects around the church or community as seems reasonable to the ladies. The salad bar is one of the big reasons I don't see any reason to vote early. Why would I want to miss such a fine meal and social event? (A note to the novice: the food goes fast so get there before noon.)

big sign points to Salad bar little sign to polling station

not much store bought here
There was some excitement today, They ran out of pie! A first in the history of the salad bar. Some people shared, others went without since they had made two. One for the salad bar and one for the family. No one starved.

So that is how it is done where I live. There won't be any disturbances or heated discussions or polling place campaigning. That stuff would be rejected by everyone as pretty uncivil. You come. You vote. You eat with your neighbor. And you go home.

some get there first "I voted today" sticker

How is it done where you live?