Conservation Practices on Farms in St. Albans Bay

Thursday, September 7th, 2017 was the Conservation Practices on Farms in St. Albans Bay bus tour!  This event was a hosted by the Farmers Watershed Alliance, UVM Extension NW Crops & Soils Team, and the USDA NRCS.  There were approximately 30 attendees comprised of farmers, agency officials, community members, and local organization members.

The bus boarded at the UVM Extension Office in St. Albans.  The tour highlighted conservation agronomic practices being done on various sites around St. Albans Bay.  See some of the highlights below:

Brigham Road Site – No-till Corn into Harvest Cover Crop:  Our first stop began with hearing from John Thurgood and Sarah Lerose, both from the NRCS.  John viewed this event as a celebration!  He spoke of how in 2015 the NRCS, other agencies, and farmers came together to work on water quality issues.  “We wanted to make sure farmers who wanted to do something could.”   Referencing EQIP, funding pools, the 4 target watersheds (St. Albans Bay included), and developing a Watershed Action Plan.  Sarah emphasized the necessity to get the message across to the public that farmers are doing good things for water quality.  Heather Darby (second from the right) shared with the group how behind the corn harvest is due to weather conditions this season.  The weather is ~3 weeks behind schedule, making corn ~2 weeks away from harvest.  Having a late corn harvest will make cover crop establishment difficult.
Janes Road Site – No-till Corn into Sod:  These fields were grass fields, but the Longway’s wanted to convert them into corn fields.  They came in, hayed it off, and planted the corn directly into the grass.  They were able to reduce erosion and see soil savings because of this practice!  They also experimented with fertilizer.  The half of the field that had fertilizer looks better because it got more nitrogen.  It was noted that farmers who spread fertilizer a little later on this year had a better yield because the rain season had passed.  Heather added with that, “It’s the science of farming we’re all aware of, but the art of farming is different.”  Farmers need to be able to adapt their practices to weather and environmental stresses.  They need to have the resources available to re-learn when they see new practices come into play.
Corliss Road Site – Forage & Biomass Planting:  These were corn fields for 10+ years.  They decided to switch to forage & biomass fields through an EQIP program.  They harrowed last fall and again this spring, seeded down the third week of June, rolled it again, and were able to harvest twice!  The seed they used was a mix of alfalfa, red clover, orchard grass, and a few other varieties.   They have seen much less erosion since switching from corn.  There is also much less opportunity for nutrient run-off than before.  Forage & biomass fields are becoming increasingly popular in Vermont.  Someone asked if we are seeing less corn in Vermont as a result.  Jeff Sanders answered that typically we are rotating corn to new fields.  So there are not fewer corn acres in Vermont, just different acres.
Dunsmore Road Site – Roller Crimp No-till vs. Conventional:  These fields used the UVM ZRX Roller Crimper.  Parts of the fields are conventionally tilled, and parts are minimally tilled.  They also have experimented with cover cropping.  They put the roller on the planter earlier in the season to roll down the cover crops (pressures down the weeds).  Although, they had a carbon issue with the cover crops being left on the field.  The cover crops soaked up too much nitrogen, impacting the corn yield.  In Vermont, no-till is much more successful on non-organic farms than on organic farms.  This is because no-till is a lot more successful when combined with spraying to get rid of the cover crops and weeds.
Maquam Shore Road Site – No-till into Standing Cover Crop; Manure Injection:  We were able to see the UVM ZRX Roller Crimper!  This is a 6 row planter.  It has undergone quite a few modifications with Scott Magnan’s Custom Service to make it as efficient of a tool as possible for farmers.  Scott Magnan (featured speaking in the photo) explained a few of those modifications.  One is the hydrolic down pressure.  This feature applies pressure to row units and allows the user to either auto-adjust or adjust as they see fit.  Another modification is that the fertilizer application was switched from a squeeze pump to an electric pump.  With the electric pump it is much easier to know exactly how much is being applied.  Lastly, they added advanced seed-tube monitoring.  This feature takes the guessing game out of seeding.  A farmer can see if the machine is skipping seeds or double-seeding.  This gives farmers the ability to react to issues as they are happening.  This machine is one of the first in the county!  Farmers are able to rent this roller crimper and test it out on their fields before committing to buying expensive equipment on their own.  All of this is made possible through funding.
Lake Road Site – No-till Roller Crimp vs. Conventional:  This was the final stop of the bus tour.  This field was half no-till roller crimped and half conventional tillage.  On the no-till half, there was a heavy mat of rye which helped reduce erosion and hold in the moisture.  That half is filled with some of the best corn in the Bay this season!  Jeff Sanders (on the right) ended the tour remarking on how amazing it is that so many farms in the bay are practicing agronomic conservation in their own way.  “There’s a lot of different paths getting to the same place.”  All but 2 farmers in the area that could have signed up for an EQIP program have.  We need to make this profitable so that when the funding dries up farmers can and will continue to follow these practices.  “Without the cost share, this stuff would probably not be happening.”


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