New York Soil Health Trailer: Learn about Compaction and Soil Health in Northeast Pastures

New York Soil Health Trailer at a Train the Trainer seminar
Two days with rain did not deter the group of grazing educators from across the Northeast attending a “Train the Trainer” seminar with the New York Soil Health Tailer in the early grazing season. Photo: Fay Benson

The New York Soil Health Trailer brought spring 2019 “Train the Trainer” programs, taught by New York Soil Health Trailer Coordinator and Cornell Extension Specialist Fay Benson, Soil Structure Consultant Larry Hepner, and Cornell Soil Health Laboratory Director Bob Schindelbeck to Brunswick and Troupsburg, N.Y . Seventeen grazing educators attended the two trainings, offered as the first part of a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (NE SARE) project to educate and provide research on soil compaction in Northeast pasture soils.

The New York Soil Health Trailer will be traveling across the Northeast, participating in pasture walks and other events this summer and fall. Currently scheduled events include July 25-27: Grasstravaganza, Cobleskill, NY; August 6-8: Empire Farm Days, Seneca Falls, NY; August dates TBA: Great New York State Fair, Syracuse, NY;and September 3-6: Maine Soil Field Days, site TBA.

Compaction is an important issue in agriculture affecting soil health and productivity. Compacted soils, which result from heavy tractor and animal use over time, have less water and air flow and are therefore less productive. Identifying compaction is the first step toward remediation. Benson is working with farmers and ag educators to develop tools that he hopes will lead to improved pasture management and therefore more sustainable farms.

Benson’s idea for this NE SARE project is to use a soil penetrometer to measure soil penetration resistance in the fence line of a pasture where no livestock compaction has occurred and within the grazing area where compaction is likely. The objective is to develop tools to help farmers better identify areas of compaction to guide remediation response.

The morning sessions of the recent training programs included morning presentations and discussions followed by afternoon field sessions at two farms, using the penetrometers to measure compaction and examining mini profiles to identify and describe soil structures.

The Trainers
Benson has a number of responsibilities with the Small Dairy Support Cornell University SCNY Regional Team, and as Education Coordinator for the NY Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, and Project Manager of the NY Organic Dairy Initiative. He also travels to many farm events with the New York Soil Health Trailer for demonstrations showing how healthy soils improve infiltration and prevent runoff.

As Director of the Cornell Soil Health Laboratory and a member of the Soil and Crop Sciences Section at Cornell University, Schindelbeck presents the Lab’s analysis of the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil, how they are measured in the lab, and the interpretations on how to improve soil health.

Hepner, a consulting agronomist and retired Delaware Valley University professor of Agronomy and Environmental Science, spoke at the training sessions to explain how to describe soil structure based on USDA NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) terminology. Structure is how the sand, silt, and clay fit together to form aggregates. Structure is described using terms for type (granular, subangular blocky, platy), grade (weak, moderate, strong, i.e. how visible the individual structural units are), and class (fine, medium, coarse, i.e. size of the granule, block, or plate). Typically, surface soil layers (horizons) have granular structure which is very good for infiltration, water movement, and oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. Granular structure usually produces maximum growth of plants. When compaction occurs, either by livestock or equipment use, the granules are crushed and converted to plates. Platy structures impede water movement, stay wet longer, and have poor oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange; all in all a much poorer environment for plants, resulting in less growth.

Compaction in pastures and farm fields is difficult to avoid. The good news is that a healthy soil (physical, chemical, and biological properties in balance) allows a soil to be much more resilient when it comes to compaction. Through field research, correlating penetrometer reading and moisture levels, Benson is working to develop ways that farmers and ag educators can better identify soil compaction at any time of year and take appropriate action to address the compaction for improved soil health and farm performance.

Benson suggests graziers test their pasture soil compaction level by using a step-in post, ny pushing the post into the soil up to 6 inches repeatedly ,first in the pasture, then under the fence line. If the grazier notices a significant difference, this indicates they are dealing with pasture soil compaction. It is best if the soil moisture level is at relatively normal condition for testing, not the overly saturated soil as many are dealing with this spring.

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Reduced Tillage Handbook Now Available Free

A handbook for improving soil health in both organic and conventional vegetable, row crop, and small grain systems is now available at no charge from Cornell Cooperative Extension and partners that made possible a popular field day event that served as the basis for the handbook.

The Reduced Tillage Field Day Handbook is available free in the Horticulture: Vegetables section of the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org.

“The field day was such a hit with the 70 people who attended and received the handbook that we are making the information available on a broader basis to encourage interest in soil health practices that reduce tillage intensity and mechanical soil disturbance. Over time, this helps maintain or increase crop yields, while reducing production costs due to reduced labor, equipment wear, and fuel use,” said field day organizer Amy Ivy, a vegetable specialist with the CCE Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program.

Highlights and excerpts from the 107-page handbook include:

  • 2018-2019 New York Soil Health Priorities and Plans
  • More than 60 percent of farmers who used reduced tillage or cover crops and responded to a New York Soil Health survey reported that flooding prevention, drought resilience and less erosion resulted from those practices.
  • Stacking tillage tools can save time for field preparation and reduce labor and fuel needs.
  • Cultivation is typically most effective for improving weed management with small weeds in dry, loose soil.
  • A project in Virginia is evaluating the potential for farmers to increase their use of cover crop rolling, which has been used successfully by individual farmers from Alabama to Pennsylvania but has yet to see widespread use in the U.S.
  • High-residue conservation tillage systems involve using large amounts of cover crop residue to suppress weeds, reduce soil erosion, and conserve soil moisture.

Although the event, held at the Willsboro Research Farm in Willsboro, N.Y., was targeted to meet organic grower expressed interest, the practices discussed in the handbook will also benefit conventional growers.

Materials are included from the field day presenters, including Bryan Brown of the New York State Integrated Pest Management program on managing weeds in small-seeded crops; Ryan Maher of the Cornell Small Farms Program on zone tillage systems; and John Wallace, Cornell University Specialty Crops Systems, on weed seedbank management.

The resource materials in the handbook consider crimpers, rollers, the biology of soil compaction, understanding microbes and nutrient recycling, caring for soil as a living system, and the use of reduced tillage and cover crops for organic and conventional vegetable production. Other sections look at how to avoid roller crimper problems, winter-hardy cover cropping, using cover crops to convert to no-till and no-till management for organic systems.

The handbook includes information from a variety of sources including Iowa State University, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ohio State University, Penn State Extension, the Rodale Institute, Rutgers University, the Sustainable Agriculture Research Education Program, and the Virginia Association for Biological Farming.

The farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, New York Soil Health, and Lake Champlain Basin Program sponsored the Reduced Tillage summer field day event. The Cornell Cooperative Extension Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program, CCE Essex County, and the Cornell University Willsboro Research Farm coordinated the field day programming.

Funding for the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is supported by the New York State Senate and administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Learn more at www.nnyagdev.org.

 

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Soil Health Experts from Fertilizer Institute in Washington, DC; Cornell University, CCE to Speak at 2018 Empire Farm Days

The Soil Health Seminars programming at the 2018 Empire Farm Days at Rodman Lott and Son Farms in Seneca Falls, NY, will provide the opportunity to hear from soil specialists, learn from farming peers in daily panel presentations, see tabletop demonstrations, tour never cover crop plots, and have a soil report created for your use. The presentations are free and organized by the New York State Interagency Soil Health Working Group.

The featured speaker at the Soil Health Center at 9:30 am on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, will be Sally A. Flis, Ph.D., director of agronomy at The Fertilizer Institute, Washington, DC. She will share an update on 4R research and discuss how to adjust fertilizer management for soil health-building practices such as no-till, reduced till, cover crops, legumes in rotation, and manure management, and how growing conditions in the Northeast effect 4R management.

On Wednesday, August 8, at 9:30 am, Harold M. van Es, a 30-year professor of soil science at Cornell University will discuss why healthy soil is the foundation of sustainable crop production and how understanding interactions among the physical, biological, and chemical aspects of soil is key to good soil health management practices, including how to enhance soil organic matter. The audience will learn how reducing tillage and adding cover crops and organic amendments result in increasing the quality and quantity of organic matter to benefit soils and crops.

The Thursday, August 9 speaker at 9:30 am at the Soil Health Center at Empire Farm Days will be Cornell University Cooperative Extension Field Crops Specialist Michael E. Hunter addressing “Weed Management for Cover Cropping and Conservation Tillage Systems.” Mike will cover the challenge of managing residual herbicides in soil health cropping systems that include cover crops, interseeding, diverse rotations, and no-till or strip tillage in the Northeast. Cover crop termination and herbicide resistance management strategies will also be discussed.

Daily at 10:30 am, King’s Agriseeds and Seedway representatives will lead tours of the side-by-side field trials of new cover crop single species and mixes, including stress-tolerant summer annuals for no-till and conventional till systems; combinations for dealing with soil compaction and adding organic matter; pollinator- and butterfly-friendly mixes; crops for use after small grain or vegetables; and natural biofumigants.

At 11:30 am each day, farmers from across New York State will participate in panel discussions as follows:

Tuesday, August 7: Soil Health Management Practices and Fertilizer and Manure Management When Incorporating Cover Crops and Reduced Tillage Into Their Systems;

Wednesday, August 8: Challenges and Benefits of Building Organic Matter and Soil, Water and Nutrient Interactions Using Soil Health Management Systems; and

Thursday, August 9: Challenges of Managing Herbicides Within Systems That Incorporate Cover Crops, Reduced Tillage and Diverse Rotations.

Empire Farm Days is the largest outdoor agricultural trade show in the Northeastern U.S. Show hours, daily schedules, directions and information about exhibitors, demonstrations, ride and drive opportunities, live animal programming and more are posted at www.empirefarmdays.com. Also see Facebook and Instagram.

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Save the Date! New York Soil Health Summit

Date: Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Time: TBD
Location: Empire State Plaza, Downtown Albany, NY

Save the date for the first New York Soil Health Summit. This event, organized by the New York Soil Health project, is for farmers, researchers, agriculture service providers, government agencies, non-profits and policy-makers interested in advancing soil health efforts across the state.

Topics include:

  • Local experts/grower panel
  • Research and policies relevant to soil health
  • Soil Health Roadmap breakout sessions

Don’t miss this opportunity to connect with colleagues and contribute critical feedback to the NY Soil Health Roadmap.

Registration, summit agenda, and other details will be coming soon.

For more information at this time, contact David Wolfe (dww5@cornell.edu) or Aaron Ristow (ajr229@cornell.edu).

More information about the project: newyorksoilhealth.org

Summit details will be updated here: summit.newyorksoilhealth.org

New York Soil Health is funded through New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets.

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Soil Health Researchers Launch Farmer Survey in New York State

Study Will Analyze Economic and Environmental Benefits of Cover Crops and Other Farm Practices

A state-wide survey of New York farmers is underway, with the aim of highlighting economic costs and benefits associated with maintaining and improving agricultural soil health. The survey, which will examine the agricultural practices of using cover crops and reduced tillage, is being conducted by the New York State Soil Health Workgroup and funded by NYS Department of Ag and Markets.

The New York State Soil Health Workgroup is a network of researchers, practitioners, and policy makers working to keep the state’s agricultural soils healthy and productive in the future. As part of these efforts, the group has recently launched a survey to explore farm practices that impact soil health, productivity, and farm profits. The survey is currently underway and will run until March 10th, 2018. The survey questionnaire can be completed by New York State farmers through an online link at http://tinyurl.com/NYsoilsurvey. A paper form of the questionnaire is also available at the Soil Health Group’s website (https://blogs.cornell.edu/soilhealthinitiative/) which can be printed and returned to the researchers by mail.

“Soil health offers a lot of win-win solutions” said David Wolfe, a professor who studies soil and water management at Cornell University. Our efforts to improve soil health are “directly affecting farmers and healthy food for all of us, but also all kinds of environmental issues: erosion, water quality, food security and climate change challenges. They’re all part of this”. New York State contains over 7 million acres of active farmland that are used to produce a wide variety of agricultural crops including apples, grapes, vegetables, corn, and soybeans. While agricultural soils are crucial to the state’s farms, they also provide other benefits to society such as protection of water resources and reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas). However, these soils suffer from compaction and loss of organic matter, and generally the health of these soils has degraded over time as a result of intensive use.

The New York State Soil Health Workgroup is looking for ways to improve and promote on-farm practices such as cover crops that bolster soil health. One of the group’s principal investigators is Matt Ryan, who conducts research on sustainable cropping systems. “Cover crops can do a number of different things, provide a number of benefits. They can protect soil from erosion, they can suppress pests, but they’re also one of the best tools that we have for building and increasing soil health”, Ryan stated. The practice of using cover crops to protect bare soil and build organic matter could be greatly expanded in New York state, and the survey is one way that the researchers are working to get a better handle on how cover crops are being used, what impact they have on farm profitability, and why some farmers have yet to adopt the practice. “We’re looking at different ways to overcome this barrier to adoption” Ryan added.

The researchers urge farmers to participate in the study by completing the 10-minute questionnaire via the online link at https://tinyurl.com/NYsoilsurvey before March 10th, 2018. A paper form of the questionnaire can be downloaded and printed, and more information about soil health and the Workgroup is available at their website; https://blogs.cornell.edu/soilhealthinitiative/. Questions about the New York State Soil Health Workgroup’s research can be directed to Cedric Mason at (607) 255-8641 or cwm77@cornell.edu.

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Soil Health Center: Farmer Panels, Keynote and More at 2017 Empire Farm Days

The New York State Working Group for Improved Soil Health has announced a full schedule of activities for the Soil Health Center at the August 8, 9 and 10 Empire Farm Days at Rodman Lott and Son Farms in Seneca Falls, NY.

Activities include daily USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service presentations, farmer panel discussions, cover crop field plot tours, a Wednesday-only keynote presentation with conservation biologist and invertebrate ecologist Carmen Greenwood, lunch sponsored by King’s AgriSeeds, and daily raffles of soil health tests from the Cornell Soil Health Lab and Dairy One and cover crop seed from Seedway.

The Tuesday, August 8 schedule includes:
. 9:30 am: Fertilizer, Manure and Nutrient Management, and Cycling in Cover Cropping and Reduced Tillage Systems with USDA NRCS Northeast Regional Soil Health Specialist Jim Hoorman, Findlay, OH

. 10:30 am: Empire Farm Days Cover Crops Field Demonstration Tour

. 11:30 am: Fertilizer and Nutrient Management in Cover Crops and Reduced Tillage Systems Farmer Panel with Jim Hershey, Hershey Farms, Elizabethtown, PA; Steve Cuddeback, Cuddeback Farms, Skaneateles, NY; John Kemmeren, Angel Rose Dairy, Bainbridge, NY; and moderator Janice Degni, Cornell SCNY Dairy and Field Crops Team Leader.

Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance President Jim Hershey has practiced no-till for more than 25 year and uses a five-way cover crop mix on his 600-acre livestock and grain farm in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. In 2016, Steve Cuddeback, an advocate for high calcium lime application with minimal tillage techniques to increase yields over time, harvested record yields of no-till soybeans and zone-tilled corn grain on this 800-acre cash crop farm. John Kemmeren has practiced no-till for 40 years, no-tilling 750 acres of corn, hay and pasture at his 750-acre dairy farm.

The Wednesday, August 9 schedule includes:
. 9:30 am: Preventing, Reducing and Mitigating Compaction and Its Impact on Soil Health and Crop Production with USDA NRCS Northeast Regional Soil Health Specialist Jim Hoorman, Findlay, OH

. 10:30 am: Empire Farm Days Cover Crops Field Demonstration Tour

. 11:30 am: Avoiding or Reducing Compaction Using Cover Crops, Reduced Tillage Systems and Other Management Strategies Farmer Panel with Janette Veazey-Post, Lamb Farms, Inc., Oakfield, NY; Joe Brightly, Brightly Farms, LLC, Hamlin, NY; Scott Potter, Dairy Support Services, Cortland, NY; Brad Macauley, Merrimac Farms Inc., Mount Morris, NY; and moderator Paul Salon, USDA NRCS Regional Soil Health Specialist.

Janette Veazey-Post co-manages a 12,000-acre progressive dairy farm, growing mostly strip-tilled corn and alfalfa. WNY Soil Health Alliance board member Joe Brightly grows grains, fresh and processing vegetables, and apples using strip tillage, cover crops and cover crop mixes, plus an interseeder he built for 2017. Since 1994, Scott Potter has provided forage production and application services to CNY dairy farms: 120 million gallons of manure per year, planting 1700 acres of corn, and harvesting 8000 acres of corn and haylage. Brad Macauley uses minimum till, cover cropping and double cropping to feed dairy cows and grow vegetable crops.

. 2:00 pm: Keynote Presentation and Demonstration: The Living Soil with Conservation Biologist Carmen Greenwood, SUNY Cobleskill

Dr. Carmen Greenwood will show how live soil-dwelling invertebrates, primarily soil mites, serve in vital ecosystem roles, provide conservation benefits, and act as indicators of soil health. Dr. Greenwood is an associate professor of entomology at SUNY Cobleskill and a member of the New York State Pollinator Task Force.

The Thursday, August 10 schedule includes:
. 9:30 am: Utilizing Soil Health Practices in Vegetable Cropping Systems with Dr. Thomas Bjorkman, Associate Horticulture Professor, Cornell University

. 10:30 am: Empire Farm Days Cover Crops Field Demonstration Tour

. 11:30 am: Utilizing Soil Health Practices in Vegetable Cropping Systems Farmer Panel with Josh Jurs, Kreher’s Farms, Clarence, NY; Dan Henry, W.D. Henry and Sons Farms, Eden, NY; Kurt Forman, Clearview Farms, Palmyra, NY; and moderator Darcy Telenko, Cornell Extension Vegetable Specialist.

Kreher’s Farm Crop Manager Josh Jurs is currently updating his 3000 organic acre cover crop program to incorporate different species to target a balance of soil health and biology and sustainability. Dan Henry’s soil health practices at W.D. Henry and Sons’ 400-acre fresh market vegetable farm include planned crop rotations and cover crops. Kurt Forman of certified organic Clearview Farm builds his wide variety of soils using cover crops, composted manure, and crop rotation, helping to control weeds and insect pests, and reducing the cost of nitrogen fertilizer.

Other features of the Soil Health Center at the 2017 Empire Farm Days include:
. Soil Health Work Group members with soil health literature, table top demonstrations and rainfall simulations illustrating how different management practices impact soil-water interaction;
. USDA NRCS soil scientists demonstrating the Web Soil Survey to print soil maps for producers;
.  demonstrations of the cell phone Soil Web App that allows you to view soils at your current location;
. USDA NRCS Conservation Client Gateway demonstrations for producers; and
. the New York Soil Health Trailer.

The Soil Health Center at Empire Farm Days is a cooperative effort of the New York State Soil Health Work Group comprised  of USDA NRCS, conservation districts, state government agencies, educational institutions, the Cornell University Soil Health program, cooperative extension, non-governmental organizations, farmers, private consultants, and agribusinesses working towards developing innovative solutions to improve soil health and raising awareness of soil health concepts by producers and ag service providers. For more information, contact Paul Salon at 607-562-8404 x 103, paul.salon@ny.usda.gov.

The Soil Health Center at Empire Farm Days was established in 2015 as a permanent site for soil health programming at the annual event that is the largest outdoor agricultural trade show in the northeastern U.S.

Empire Farm Days show hours are Tuesday-Wednesday 9 am to 5 pm and Thursday 9 am to 4 pm. Parking is $10 per vehicle. Visit www.empirefarmdays.com or call 877-697-7837 for more details.

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Checking the Back Forty – Central NY Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Report – June 26, 2017

In this Issue:

  • Potato leafhoppers have arrived
  • Crusted soils

Kevin H. Ganoe
Regional Field Crop Specialist
Central New York Dairy, Livestock
& Field Crops Team
Cornell Cooperative Extension of
Chenango, Fulton, Herkimer, Otsego, Montgomery,
Saratoga and Schoharie Counties
5657 State Route 5, Herkimer, NY 13350
Phone: 315-866-7920 Cell: 315-219-7786
FAX: 315-866-0870
khg2@cornell.edu

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