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Conservation Corner

Farmers Keeping Nutrients on the Field, out of streams

Fri, August 24, 2018

An excellent article on Farmers and their efforts to keep nutrients on the field out of streams.

#ConservationRoadtrip stops in Ohio and visits soil health advocate David Brandt.

To learn about incentives for no till, strip till, cover crops under EQIP and CSP, visit your local NRCS Field office.




Managing for Soil Health: Maximize Living Roots

Mon, August 20, 2018

Want healthier soils? Living roots reduce erosion and provide food for organisms like earthworms and microbes that cycle the nutrients your plants need.

The Dollars and Cents of Soil Health: A Farmer’s Perspective

Posted by Elizabeth Creech, Natural Resources Conservation Service in Conservation

Last year, the United States lost 2 million acres of land in active crop production. As the global population grows towards a projected 9.8 billion people by 2050, so too does demand for the food, fuel and fiber grown in America. The result? American farmers are looking for sustainable ways to produce high yields year after year.

To support this growing demand, many farmers are incorporating soil health management principles into their operations. Conservation practices such as cover crops and no-till are widely recommended to build soil health over time, but do these practices actually improve crop yields and lead to stable profit margins? To answer this question fully we will rely on universities, private scientists, government researchers and those most directly impacted: farmers themselves.

Meet Russell Hedrick

Russell Hedrick is a first-generation corn, soybean and specialty grains producer in Catawba County, North Carolina. Hedrick started in 2012 with 30 acres of row crops. Since then, he’s expanded to roughly 1,000 acres.

“When we first started, farmers in the area said we needed a 150 horsepower tractor and a 20-foot disk,” says Hedrick. “We started out broke and we couldn’t afford the tillage equipment,” he adds, with a good-natured laugh. “I was lucky to have a fantastic district conservationist who set us in the right direction from the beginning.”

His first year, Hedrick practiced 100 percent no-till and planted cover crops across part of his land. “We tried out a six or seven species cover crop blend,” says Hedrick. “Back then, a lot of people thought we were crazy.”

That initial blend consisted of cereal rye, oats, triticale, legumes, crimson clover and daikon radish. Hedrick compared yields for soybeans grown with cover crops versus those grown without and noticed a significant difference: higher yields for cover cropped beans, and noticeably improved weed suppression.

“We started off our first year seeing yields higher than the county average,” Hedrick says. “That really lit me on fire to keep growing and trying new things to improve the soil health.”

Soil Health Case Studies

Though every farm and every field are different, a recently-completed Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grants project shows promising results for farmers interested in adopting soil health management practices.

Conducted by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) in partnership with Datu Research, the project provides economic case studies focusing on four corn and soybean producers in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The profiled farms range in size from 25 acres of row crops to 2,300 acres, with three focusing on the economics of cover crop adoption and one specifically focusing on no-till.

Of the three farmers focusing on cover crop adoption, two reported average net economic gains over their first four to five years of cover cropping compared to a pre-adoption baseline. The no-till case study showed economic gains for all three years studied.

Giving Soil Health a Shot

When asked what he’d suggest to farmers considering trying new practices to build soil health, Hedrick’s answer is simple – just give it a shot.

“It’s not that hard to try something new,” says Hedrick. “Farmers should remember that soil health practices aren’t silver bullets and some take time to establish. When you’re first starting, try no-till or cover crops across 20 percent of your land. That’s manageable, and it leaves you a safety net if you don’t get the economic results you want to begin with.” Farm Bill programs such as NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program can further reduce the economic risk farmers face after adopting new conservation practices.

With 318.5 bushels per acre, Hedrick was the dryland division state winner in the 2016 North Carolina Corn Yield Contest. His corn and soybean yields are typically 20 to 30 percent higher than the county average, and over time he’s been able to reduce fertilizer costs by more than $70 per acre thanks to the nutrient boosts associated with cover cropping.

“I spend $45 per acre on my best cover crops,” says Hedrick, “and I spend about $20 per acre on my least expensive. Either way, I’m still saving money because of my fertilizer reductions.”

Hedrick encourages farmers to try different practices until they find what works for them. “At the end of the day,” he says, “there’s no one right way to do this. You just have to do the best you can, and try to do better each year. As long as you’re making progress, no one can fault you.”

To read more about the economics of no-till, please visit the Saving Money, Time and Soil: The Economics of No-Till Farming blog. Visit the NRCS website to learn more about voluntary conservation programs for your working lands.




Archery deer opportunities in Rock Island and across Illinois

Thu, August 16, 2018

An excellent article on archery deer hunting opportunities in Rock Island and across Illinois.

Rock Island has begun accepting applications for the 2018-19 archery deer hunting season. The season runs parallel to the dates set by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the rest of the state.

Applications can be obtained at the Rock Island Police Department’s front desk, Rock Island Parks and Recreation Office, or online at All potential hunters must return their completed applications along with their proficiency card to the Police Department by 5 p.m., Aug. 31, in order to be considered for a permit. Deer hunting will be permitted on a select number of sites pending City approval.

Residents with questions regarding the Deer Management Program should contact Deputy Police Chief Jason Foy at 309-732-2701. All approved hunters will be required to attend a mandatory meeting to be scheduled at a later date.

If you would like to hunt elsewhere in the state, there is a program which could allow you to hunt on private land. The ILDNR is providing public outdoor recreational access and other opportunities on private lands through the Illinois Recreational Access Program. More than 95 percent of land in Illinois is privately owned, making access for new hunters very difficult.

ILDNR created this program by utilizing resources obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service Voluntary Public Access–Habitat Incentive Program. This results in hunting and fishing opportunities for hunters without having to complete with other individuals for the same public areas.

Using VPA-HIP grants, ILDNR is helping private landowners protect and restore their properties. Landowners who choose to lease their property to IRAP receive a comprehensive habitat/forestry management plan and are eligible for assistance to implement habitat restoration projects.

Since IRAP’s inception in 2011, more than 17,600 acres in 48 counties have been leased for outdoor recreational activities. IRAP has written more than 70 habitat/forestry plans, conducted invasive species control on nearly 6,000 acres, treated more than 2,340 acres using prescribed burning and prepared miles of burn breaks, implemented 682 acres of timber stand improvement and restored 350 acres of land with grass and tree planting.

If you are interested in hunting on one of these properties, first you will need to apply. The ILDNR website has all the materials needed, as well as the counties that have properties available. Locally, Whiteside and Lee county have properties for archery deer hunting. Some of the highest profile deer hunting counties such as Pike, Calhoun, Fulton, and Schuyler also have properties available.

Applications for this fall’s deer archery program are due Aug. 24, so registrations must be completed soon. If you are fortunate to be drawn, you receive two weeks of exclusive access to the property. For most properties, two applicants will be selected, each getting two separate weeks to hunt the ground.

But, deer hunting is not the only activity available. Spring turkey hunting, fishing on private land shorelines, non-motorized boat access, outdoor hiking and photography, and small-game hunting are also available on these properties.

A little work digging through the ILDNR website can open multiple opportunities for hunting if you are willing to plan ahead. With all the time you spend in the outdoors, taking the time during the offseason to set yourself up for success is well worth the hour it will take you on your computer learning all the available programs the ILDNR has set up to expand hunting and fishing opportunities statewide.

World Outdoors columnist Jeremiah Haas can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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