Importance of Natural Resources

Soil Health Management Systems – Using NRCS Practice Standards


Well good afternoon,
everybody. There’s been a lot of emphasis
in discussion on soil health and cover crops over
the last few years. So today this webinar is going
to focus on soil health management systems or the
planning principles and conservation practices
that work together to enhance soil health. It will also provide you a
background on using NRCS conservation practices to
develop a sustainable system that promotes soil health. We’re fortunate today to have
as our speaker David Lamm. Probably most of you
know David already. David is the team leader for the
National Soil Health and Sustainability Team, which is
located at the East National Technology Support Center in
Greensboro, North Carolina. Just on a personal note, we’ve
had Dave out to Ohio many times to talk about soil health
and he has a real gift for being able to put the issue
of soil health into perspective that producers
can relate to. David is a native of
Marion, Indiana. He’s worked his way up through
the ranks of NRCS, serving in many different positions
over the years. He currently has over 30 years
experience with NRCS. But I really think that
he’s found his niche with soil health. It’s something that he
obviously enjoys. So as Holli indicated, David
is open to taking questions throughout the presentation. So feel free to type those in. And when David’s able to catch
a breath between slides I’ll try to interject your
questions there. So without further ado, David
I’ll turn it over to you. OK Mark, I’m bringing up my
presentation now, so I apologize for the time it’s
taking to get that. I want to welcome everybody
to today’s webinar. Generally you hear my voice
at the other end doing what Mark does. But I am excited about being
here and sharing my ideas and what we’re trying to advocate
through the use of soil health management systems. But the first thing is, really,
why are we even talking about this in 2013? And there’s some really
compelling drivers behind the emphasis behind soil health. And the first one being the
fact that in less than 40 years, folks, there’s going to
be another 25% more people on the face of the earth. World estimates are there’s
going to be over nine billion people. And these nine billion people
are going to need something to eat. And that’s going to put a
tremendous responsibility and challenge to agriculture, not
only here in the United States but across the world, to
increase the food and fiber production 50%, 60%, 70% on the
same amount of acreage, or less, that’s available
right now. You think about we got another
2 billion people that are going to come. They’re going to have
to live somewhere. So some land that’s being used
for agricultural purposes and is no longer available. So and a good estimate of that,
looking at what happened here in the United States
between 1982 and 2007 where we lost 14 million acres
of prime farmland to non returnable usage. And then this whole idea
of energy demands. I get confused myself. I didn’t realize until I
was preparing for this presentation that over 40% of
the corn that was produced in the United States last year went
for ethanol production. And this increase in production
requires an increase in inputs. Use of anhydrous ammonia is up
48% in the last 10 years. The use of urea and
other forms of nitrogen is up over 93%. That’s a tremendous amount
of increase. And the fact of the matter,
folks, this increase has been bought at an energy expense. Now, we’re using our corn to
produce our ethanol to drive our cars but also that same corn
is requiring 30,000 to 35,000 cubic feet of natural
gas to produce a ton of various forms of nitrogen. So it’s kind of an unsustainable
future if you look at it that way. That’s why we’re talking
about this today. So when we’re talking about soil
health, the definition that we like to use is this idea
of the continued capacity of the soil to function as a
vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals,
and humans. And that definition’s got three
really key components. The idea of continued
capacity. We want our soil to be able to
produce continuously in a sustainable fashion
in the future. That’s very important. And the idea of it being a
vital living ecosystem. I wonder how many of us this
morning when we walked across our lawn going to the office
that we thought about that whatever was underfoot is
a living ecosystem. Most of us don’t think
of it that way. And then the idea of
soil functions. What are those soil functions
that we expect to get and are needed for agricultural
production? That’s a key there. Most farmers, and I’ll say this
many, many times, they have acute knowledge and
awareness how a piece of steel goes through the soil. But they have very, very little
understanding about how soils function and the actions
that they’re taking through management, whether it be
application of fertilizer, tilling, all those things they
could do, they have very little understanding
of how that affects how soils function. One of those functions that we
expect soils to do for us and help us raise our food and
fiber, the first one there is nutrient cycling. We need to have our soils
efficiently cycle nutrients, whether it’s something that
we’ve applied synthetically or whether we’re trying to get a
little extra boost by managing our soils in such a way that
it’s providing nutrients by the way we’re managing. Both are very, very critical. The second thing is we want
our soil to hold water. We don’t want water running off
the landscape getting into our streams or rivers
and our water. It’s more important that it
soaks through the soil. And as it’s soaking through the
soil that it holds on to some of that. So we want our soils to provide
infiltration and we also want them to have water
available for that June, July, August period when the crop
production is so key and water demand is so high. The third thing is the idea of
filtering and buffering. We expect and we demand our
soils to break down those products that we apply. We hope that they help break
down, biochemically pesticides or what have you, and help
accelerate that half life so they don’t stick around and
linger for a long time. And the fourth thing we expect
out of our soils is to provide physical stability
and support. And by that I mean we need to
be able to cross our fields without rutting them up. As a district conservationist
oh so many years ago, one of the strongest selling points I
can remember to farmers about no till was the fact they liked
it in the fall when they were harvesting. It gave them a firm
foundation. I do remember rutting
the field up. And think about that, folks. In a one year period of time,
soil resilience is so important that it was able to
sustain or keep farmers in a better condition as they are
harvesting their fields. A huge selling point. But that last one, the idea
of soil as a habitat for biodiversity. I can guarantee you there’s
probably not one person out of 10 out there that would have
thought about that as being a significant soil function that
we need to support through these soil health management
systems that I’m going to be talking about. So the idea is as we develop
these systems we need to make sure that we contain practices
and activities that address all of these soil functions so
that we can have a vital living ecosystem. Some clarification here. Soil properties, there’s
really two types. There’s those that
are inherent. Those are the ones such as soil
texture, type of clay, depth to bedrock, drainage
class, those types of things. We really can’t do anything to
alter those due to emphasis on soil health and implementation
of soil health management systems. What we’re talking about is
those things that are the dynamic properties. Things that are affected by
human decisions and activities that are done for
the landscape. Organic matter, biological
activity, aggregate stability, infiltration, all of these are
affected by the decisions that farmers make on a day to
day basis on how they manage their land. That’s a huge difference. So the reason I bring that up
is we can’t expect everybody to have 10% organic matter
in the soil or 5%. You need to look at the
landscape that you have in your surrounding areas. Go out to the woods. Go out to the prairies that
hasn’t been disturbed. What’s going on there? That’s your goal. That’s what you should be
striving for in your particular location across
the country. So here’s my first poll
question, Mark. Let’s see how this works. All right, now if it’s true you
put the thumbs up, if it’s false you put the thumbs down. So providing habitat for soil
microbes is one of the primary functions of agricultural
soils. OK, go ahead and select your
thumbs up or thumbs down at this time. I like this, Mark. Most of the time we’re answering
questions and it’s very rare that I get to respond
and ask questions after the audience here. Well, actually, I’m not seeing
the icons change on here. I’m still seeing the heads. So that doesn’t appear to
be functioning as we thought it would be. OK. Well, let me keep going and
maybe we can make a correction as we go. And we think that managing soils
is a challenging thing. OK, before we move into
developing systems, we really need to have a good solid
understanding of soil health planning principles. And so I’m going to go through
the four that have the drivers behind those practices that
we’ve selected to be kind of combined into a soil health
management system. The first one is being
managing more by disturbing soil less. Second, use plant diversity
to increase diversity in the soil. Grow a living root throughout
the year and keep the soil covered as much as possible. Let’s talk about
the first one. Why is managing more
by disturbing the soil less so important? Agricultural disturbance
destroys soil organic matter. That’s just a fact
of life, folks. We’ve known that for
many, many years. All the other different periods
in history that has questioned the value of soil
organic matter, it’s unrefuted right now. That is key to building
soil health. The second thing is it not only
destroys organic matter but it destroys the habitat
for the soil organism. If we destroy a habitat above
ground for wildlife, by bare soil, what have you, we’re going
to drive the wildlife in one direction or another. It’s the same thing
below the ground. If we destroy the habitat for
the soil microbes in which they try to survive in, we’re
going to have microbes down there but not going to be
in the balance nor those beneficial organisms that we’re
seeking to create a habitat for. We need to think about managing
our soils so we can create a non hostile
environment. A hostile environment means
non-beneficials thrive over beneficial organisms. And there’s basically
three types of disturbance I’ll talk about. There’s physical, there’s
chemical, and there’s biological. Now let’s run through
those real quick. Physical disturbances,
basically, just tillage. Anything that does any kind of
soil disturbing activity, whether it be plowing,
chiseling, what have you. Deep ripping, anything like that
has a tremendous impact on the soil. Here’s a good example
of what happens. We have a soil from, I think
this is from Iowa or somewhere in the Midwest, where they went
out and they measured the organic matter in the soil,
forest soil at 4.3% and then they checked in the field
adjacent to that and had been 17 years of continuous
monoculture soybeans. And look at the organic matter. 1.6%. That’s 60% less. Unfortunately, folks, I mean,
that’s a tremendous loss but that’s not atypical for
across the country. That’s the average. Not only have we lost a huge
percentage of our top soil, along with that went this
valuable organic matter. 62%. And also, I have the photos up
above there you can see how the difference between
the slaking that took place on the soybeans. There’s no organic glues,
there’s no structure, there’s no aggregation to hold that soil
together when it’s placed in– a guy has water rushing
in on it as opposed to the well aggregated soil. What happens to that
organic matter? What happens to all
that crop residue? You’re raising 150 or 200 bushel
corn, you’re going to have 4,000, 5,000 pounds
of residue, easy. What happens to it? Here’s another study that’s
done by Dr. Reicosky several years ago. It says within the first 20
minutes after a tillage operation, or use a v ripper or
something like that, look at that spike in CO2 release. CO2 is a measure
of respiration. What we’ve done is stimulate
those bacteria, those copiotrophic bacteria
in the soil. They’re having a pig out
which we think will last for a long time. But look what happens. Within six hours that CO2
respiration is gone back down almost to where it
was with no till. The big flush of carbon dioxide
60%, 70%, 80% of carbon dioxide has been released
in the atmosphere. That means carbon going up in
the atmosphere is carbon that cannot go into the soil
organic matter. Again, a huge, huge problem. Let’s pick on the grazers
a little bit. Here’s a typical, I’d like to
tease, say this is a typical EQIP contract. We’ve done a good job of
focusing on the stream there in the middle. We fenced it up, put a nice
stream crossing in there. And we’ve got two watering
facilities. So how many of us would walk
away from this particular slide and say we’ve accomplished
the mission, we’ve address the resource
concerns? That’s not the case, folks. Biological disturbance through
overgrazing with livestock is equally detrimental
to soil health. While it doesn’t necessarily
invert the soil, it causes many, many of the same issues. Soil disturbance stimulates
weeds. Why weeds? You think about it, weeds are
the first plants that come in. Ray calls them the
first responders. In an evolutionary process or
in an ecosystem that’s going back or trying to strive to
get back to a steady state condition, weeds are the first
things that pop up. That’s because the plant that
we consider a weed puts most of its energy into reproduction, putting out seeds. Look at the Palmer amaranth. What is it, 0.5 million
seeds per pound. That’s because it wants to
come back next year. It’s not putting any energy into
roots, any energy into being a sustainable plant. That’s why weeds
are a problem. That’s what happens when
you overgraze. Increases weed population,
diminishes that whole fungal biomass and the spores
in the soil. You drive it from a fungal
driven system to a bacterial driven system. Reduces infiltration, seals
it off, increases soil temperatures, diminishes the
habitat for soil microbes. You’ve created a hostile
environment because you’ve mismanaged how you let your cows
graze on there, goats, or what have you, sheep. As a result of this action, it
increases the necessity for synthetic inputs such as
fertilizer, pesticides, to control those weeds. Biological disturbance could
be equally a problem. And then we all know about
chemical disturbance. Over application. I’m going to emphasize this. Over application, misapplication
of synthetic materials such as pesticides,
fertilizers, and manures can cause a tremendous amount
of problems. When you’ve properly followed
a program such as a nutrient management strategy, something
like that, it can help. It is the misuse and
over application. So what kind of practices
does NRCS have? We have no till and
cover crops. We’re all pushing
that big time. Tremendous benefit and minimize
soil disturbance. Don’t get me wrong. But also equally as important
is this idea of nutrient management and pest management
and prescribed grazing. We need to implement these
things as a system and not as an independent practice. That’s the key. It’s a system and not an
independent practice. Let’s talk about
proper nutrient management for a second. We all know about the four R’s,
the right source, the right time, the right place,
and the right rate. I’d like to submit the fifth
R, that’s the right soil. We need to be building our soils
that are regenerative so that when microbes are
mineralizing the organic matter in the soil we
can kick start that. Normally we’re looking at a 2%
or 3% mineralization rate. Healthy soils can bump
that up to 4% or 5%. And you think about that,
mineralization normally give 20 maybe 30 pounds of
nitrogen credit per percent organic matter. Just think of your systems
functioning enough, it’s been regenerated enough that it’s up
to 4%, 5%, and then we’re talking 120, 150 units of
nitrogen that’s going to be available under normal
mineralization in a healthy soil. Let’s talk about proper
integrated pest management. This whole idea of let’s don’t
jump all the way down to suppression before we start
worrying about things. Let’s go through the steps. What all can we do to prevent
pests from occurring? Crop rotations, resistant
varieties. What can we do to create an
avoidance atmosphere? You can use trap crops, we can
create beneficial insect habitat, we can incorporate
those in there. We can use monitoring to
establish economic thresholds that will help us evaluate
whether it’s worth going to that suppression technique which
is supposed to be the fourth step in the process. Again, it’s a systematic
approach, includes all of these. All right, Mark. Did we have any success with
the first poll question? Well, Tanya is suggesting
a solution to it here. So let’s go ahead and try your
question then I’ll give them some guidance on– we’ll
see if we can get it to show up this time. All right. The second poll question is:
soils can be disturbed by physical, chemical, or
biological activities. Is this a true or
false statement? OK, Tanya suggested at the top
of your screen, you’ll see a participant button that if you
press that at the very top and choose emotion and then you
can select OK, agree, or disagree with that. So let’s try that and see if we
get our responses to take effect this time. So if you agree with– Dave, go ahead and read
your question again. Soils– Can be disturbed by physical,
chemical, or biological activities. True or false? So again, if you go to
participants, choose emotion and then see if you can get
your icon to change there. Are we getting some better
success this time? Actually, no, I’m still not
seeing any changes. So we’re going to have to work
on that the next time. OK, well we’re going to– it
was a good idea, but let’s keep moving. All right. I do have a question though,
if you want a question. That’s fine. The question is, why do you feel
a system of practices is more effective than, say, just
no till or cover crops by themselves? Getting at this idea of why is
one practice not as effective as, say, two or three
combined. Well, what we find, Mark, is
that when you implement things as a system you get a synergistic approach or benefit. 1 plus 1 doesn’t equal
2 anymore. It’s the whole concept of
one benefit multiplies on top of the other. And it’s not quite as
clean as just– we can’t put necessarily a value
on it but again, it’s the synergistic effect that’s
created by implementing all of these principles. And a good example is I could
tell you about residue. We used to go out and I’d talk
about how the benefits and residue left over from a corn
stalk or something like that and be there for years. Look how good, that corn stalk’s
been there for years. Well, folks, corn stalks
are not supposed to stick around for years. They’re supposed to degrade,
they’re supposed be decomposed into healthy soil,
they’re being incorporated into the soil. So if it’s laying around that
means yeah, I’m no tilling, but my biological activity
in the soil is very poor. Residue shouldn’t last from
one year to the next. That’s the point. So, you got anything else you
might add to that, Mark? Well, I’d kind of like to liken
that to filter strips. We can put a filter strip out
there as a standalone practice and it may be very effective for
a while, but unless we’re looking at other practices in
the field upstream of that, we’re quickly going to overwhelm
that filter strip with nutrients, sediment
that type of thing. And it’s going to lose
effectiveness. So that’s kind of a good
example where adding additional practices,
as you said, it adds a synergistic effect. They complement one another
and they end up being more effective than if we just
would have put out the practice by itself. OK. OK, well I’ll keep
going unless you have another question. No, that’s all I’ve
got at this time. OK. Let’s talk about the second
planning principle, this idea of increasing diversity
in a crop rotation. Why we do that? What are we talking about? Well basically we’re talking
about growing more plants, more species, in the same
rotation period. So if your rotation’s three
years and you’re growing three crops, is there a benefit to
trying to kick that up to six or seven or 10 different
plant species in that given period of time. Why do we do that? Well, increase the soil organic
matter, one key. It breaks pest cycle,
it improves nutrient availability, nutrient cycling, those types of things. It also provides windows
for management activities to occur. Being able maybe to spread
manure at a time of year that’s more beneficial or has
less negative effect on the environment. That type of thing. So those are some reasons
to try it. But folks, we need to understand
it’s more than just planting more plants. It’s planting plants that,
again, work synergistically to improve the soil biology. We need to understand that
plants have an interaction with microbes. They trade sugars, they trade
carbohydrates, they trade proteins from their roots, from
the plant roots, and they send out these exudates,
these chemical signatures into the soil. And when they’re doing that
they’re trying to attract a specific variety of microbes in
the soil that benefit them. They’re saying, microbe here I’m
going to send you out this cake and this ice cream, these
proteins, these sugars, and I’m going to try and get you to
come and establish yourself around my roots. And in exchange for that those
microbes provide water. They can provide nutrients,
they can provide — the concept of mineralization and
immobilization takes place in that rhizosphere that’s
immediately adjacent to the root. That’s where that converting
the plant material into organic matter. So it requires a diversity of
carbohydrates, a diversity of these plant exudates, to support
a variety of microbes. And a system that lacks that
is driven to favor some microbes more than another. So and then again, a good
indicator of that is disturbed soil, soils that have had a
lot of physical, chemical, biological disturbance tend to
be dominated by bacteria and they tend to be dominated by
bacteria that fall into the non beneficial side
of the equation. The diversity of bacteria in a
non-agricultural field in a woods or a prairie can
be up to 20,000 to 25,000 different species. We find in an agricultural field
that’s been disturbed that they’re down there to
about 1,500 to 2,000. So again, it’s the habitat we
created, whether beneficial or not, that allows those
to flourish. Again, biodiversity is
a key to success. Lack of it severely limits any
cropping system and a fully functioning system needs
nutrients and energy to drive the system. And I think many of us– I know that folks out there saw
the movie Super Size Me. It’s kind of a silly explanation
here, but the whole premise of that movie was
a gentleman decided he was going to live on McDonald’s
food for a month. He had his chemical blood
work done, his weight. Everything was impeccable. By the end of the month his
blood work went to pot, he gained weight, his doctor
was begging him to get off of that. And you think about what’s the
story there, by continually feeding the microbes in the soil
the same exudates from the same one, two, or three
plant species, you’re going to severely limit the diversity
and the number of microbes that could be potentially
beneficial to the plants. So we talked about mimicking
nature, mimicking native ecosystems. What do a prairie or a steady
state forest have in common? Well they have a diversity
of plants. They have plants that
would fall into broadleaf and grass plants. Or you’d have trees. So what we try and is establish
a simplified plant classification system but based
on plant morphology. And based on their growth
habits, whether they grow cool season or warm season. So let’s talk about how
that would work. So a cool season, grasses would
be those grasses, corn, millet, sudan. Oh, those are warm season,
excuse me. Sudex and sorghum. Those. And broadleafs would
be alfalfa, soybeans, buckwheat, chickpea. The classification for cool
season would be your cereal rye, barley, triticale,
those things. In cool season broadleafs would
be canola, your clovers, your vetches, your turnips,
your radishes, and those types of things. So what we’re trying to do is
look at your rotation and see where in your rotation you’re
missing these plants. What are you missing? Your rotation should
have all varieties. You should have every warm
season grass, you’ve got to have cool season grass, you have
a warm season broadleaf, or a cool broadleaf within
your rotation. If you’re not, then you’re not
getting the biological diversity in the plant exudates
that you’re putting into the soil. So, what’s the role
of diversity? It allows you to look
at the cropping periods, rather than years. Now we’re not naive enough to
think that the best thing in the world is for everybody to
start raising three or four years of hay at the end
of the rotation. Well that’s not going
to happen. We know that. If it was a good thing
everybody would be doing it right now. So we’re limited to that two
or three or four years rotational cycle that
takes place in your neck of the woods. Down here in the south it’s
cotton, cotton, peanuts. Up in the Midwest it’s corn,
beans, corn, beans and wheat, something like that. So by looking at ways to
divert or insert these different species into those
tight rotations, we don’t have to look at a year but we
can look at a window. What can we squeeze in between
the corn and the soybeans or the soybeans and the wheat or
the wheat and the corn? Those types of things. So we accelerate the
rejuvenation process in the soil health. And the other thing we need to
think about is this idea of how do we measure success when
it comes to a cover crop? We tend to want to measure
biomass, don’t we? We tend to want to brag about
oh, I got 10,000, I got 12,000 pounds of biomass, which
is a good thing. But we tend to neglect the fact
that or overlook the fact that if a root is growing in
the soil for six to eight weeks they’re putting exudates
into the soil, they’re stimulating a particular microbe
that if that plant wasn’t there for six, eight, ten
week period, would not get the benefits of that
carbohydrates and proteins and sugars they’re putting
out there. So we need to think
about that. If a plant’s only growing for
six or eight weeks, that’s good enough. It’s adding value
to the system. That’s one of the keys behind
a diverse cover crop mix. Got time for a question
or two, David? Yeah. Yeah, go ahead. One question was asking if you
could repeat the number of pounds per percent
of nitrogen as a component of organic matter. The percent organic matter. I think you had a ounce of
nitrogen per percent of organic matter? OK, well a lot of the labs in
the Midwest and across the country are starting to give
what they call the estimated nitrogen release, or how much mineralization is going to occur. And it generates about 20 pounds
per 1% organic matter. It’s just a standard simple
mineralization rate. And it’s conservative. Depending on the biological
activity in the soil, it can be ramped but they’re not going
to stick their necks out and say that. They really feel comfortable
with 20 pounds per 1%. So you think about it, you got
a 3% soil that’s 60 pounds. Previously if your crop needed
160 units of nitrogen, now they’re saying you’re going to
get 60 of it from the soil, so you’d have to supplement that
with 100 pounds of anhydrous or urea or something
like that. That make sense? Thank you for that. And Karen’s asking warm season
plants don’t always establish well up north. Do you have any recommendations
when cold season plants dominate? So you talked about the four
phenotypes of warm seasons grasses, broadleafs cold season
grasses and broadleafs, I guess she’s asking what would
be a good warm season crop for those that
are up north. Well again, I’m not talking
about warm season grasses in the sense of native prairies. I’m talking about
annual plants. We’re not going to go out of
season to switch grass or something like that. So things like you could use
corn, you could use millet, you could use sudex, those
would be all things. You think about a farmers got
a bag of corn seed sticking around hasn’t used or bin run
beans or something like that. We can do, put our cover crops
in a very narrow window, but all plants produce exudates,
all plants provide benefit. Now you’re saying, all right,
Lamm, you just told me I’m raising corn all the time and
you want me to use corn as part of the cover crops. That might have been
a poor example. But there are some out there. Sorghum. We need to look at some
more nontraditional. But I’m talking about annual
plants, not perennials. So you got anything you’ve
experienced up in Ohio, Mark, that would add to that? Well, a lot of it too would
depend on as you say, corn would be a good warm season
grass that would substitute in there. If you’re growing corn you might
not need to supplement that in a cover crop mix. But yeah. And if you’re taking off wheat
say, for example, and you could go in with the sorghum,
sudan grass and get that established early, get some
benefit from that, just realize that your warm season
plants are going to die as soon as the first major
frost hits. So if you’re going to plant
those up north you need to get them established earlier, like
perhaps after a wheat crop. And then that would be the
reason I have a diverse mix, this whole idea well, I’ve got
some I know is going to last 10 weeks and I’ve got some
that’s going to last throughout the winter. So practices that help address
diversity or cover crops and of course a conservation
cropping rotation would be, too. But we need to also
think about some of our buffer practices. We’ve got six or seven or 10
different buffer practices that while they may not address
the individual square foot of crop land, they do, if
planted to the right species, can provide beneficial insect
habitat, pollinator habitat, and do those kind of things that
would help support what’s going on in the field. So they can be a critical
part of that. I’m going to skip my poll
question here and go. Go on to this idea of growing
a living root throughout the year. This is something. You think about folks the sun
shines 365 days a year. Most of the year there’s some
kind of potential for respiration, some kind
of biological activity takes place. Photosynthesis is going
to take place. Limit the amount of solar energy
we can trap in our soil by the fact that we raise crops
that grow for 100 to 110 days, something like that. Why are growing living
roots so important? Increases the microbial
activity, influences mineralization, increases
plant nutrient uptake. All these good things that
I’ve listed here are celebrated by the fact that
there’s a root in the ground year round putting out
exudates, stimulating particular variety of microbes,
saying come on, come and get it. I took this information
out of RUSLE. I like to tease about RUSLE,
but I’ll refrain from that right now. This is a good idea example. Here the green line represents
the corn plant. Plant it, first of May, harvest,
stops growing. In fact, it may take a longer
time to harvest corn, but in all practical purposes it quits
growing after 100, 110, days, 114 days, depending
on the variety. So I thought about now maybe
900 to 1,000 pounds of root mass in that top four inches. You look at soybeans. It’s putting on about 400, 450
pounds when it’s actively growing in that top
four inches. Of course there’s a lot more
roots going down below that, but not much. But then you look at a hairy
vetch – rye combination. You plant it September,
let it grow. Over 2,000 pounds before
you terminate it to plant your corn. So look at that. That’s over a ton of biomass of
root mass of living roots putting out exudates,
stimulating soil microbiology, all that good stuff in
the top four inches. That’s over a ton right there. That’s why we’re talking about
trying to keep a living root growing throughout the year. How do we do that? Well, you can lengthen
your rotation. You add wheat or you add a
crop to make it that way. We can start looking at
varietal selections. Everybody manages like we need
to plant the longest season variety possible. Well maybe that’s
not the case. Maybe we need to have some
research into choosing varieties that are shorter
but still have high yield potentials. And again, we only need six to
eight to 10 weeks of the cover crop root growing
to be able to do that, to provide benefit. And the idea of interseeding. We’re so focused on planting
the cover crop after the harvest, maybe there’s
techniques that we can interseed the cover crop while
the crop is growing. Why would we do that? Being able to establish– I like to tease about this as
a blinding glimpse of the obvious folks. We put a cover crop out, we let
it grow longer, it’s going to get bigger. That doesn’t take rocket
science to figure that out, does it? Here’s hairy vetch planted on
July 17, picture taken in October compared to hairy vetch
planted on June 29, not quite a month. But look at the biomass
difference. Here’s a study that supports
that down in Pennsylvania. Again, the light blue is what’s
planted in early or late August, the dark blue was
planted in late September. Look at the biomass
production. Again, you got more growing
degree days taking advantage of that sunlight all
that good stuff. The same thing can translate
into the spring. So how are farmers doing that? And this is what’s
interesting. If we can convince farmers this
is a good idea, they’ll make it work. Aerial application, that’s
nothing new. What’s new to it is the use of
GPS making sure you’re in the right field, that’s good, making
sure your overlaps are correct, that’s really
good stuff. The guy in the upper
right hand corner. You think about that corn’s
tasseling out, got a guy with a high boy sprayer, he’s got
drops on that sprayer, he’s seeding his cover crops. As he’s going, that’s getting in
there end of August, first of September getting that three
or four or five week jump window. That cover crop’s not going to
cause any problem while that corn’s drying down. Down in the bottom left
hand corner we’ve got defoliating cotton. Guy’s got a broadcast seeder at
the front of his sprayer, sending out the seeds,
defoliating again, three or four or five weeks
ahead of time. Getting that jump in the fall,
allowing that cover crop to come up. And then at last thing
you guys think, oh, that’s kind of silly. What’s he doing there? That’s a lawn mower
blade, folks. Again, he realizes
that corn’s done. It’s drying down. That part above the ear
is providing no benefit to the corn. So he went in and
mowed it down. In the meantime I don’t
see [INAUDIBLE] broadcast seeder. He’s chopping his corn off,
seeding at the same time. Again, that’s a radical idea,
but this is what farmers– once they learn that this is a
good idea, they’ll figure out strange techniques like this
to make it happen. Good picture of interseeding an
annual rye grass, which is big in the Midwest. Benefits there. Again, I’m going to skip
my poll question. You have any questions for me,
Mark, or I’ll take a break? Yes I do, actually. Several. There’s two or three that
concern the use of kind of taking credit for the nitrogen
from the organic matter that you talked about. They’re being concerned
that also uses carbon. And so by crediting the
nitrogen, removing the nitrogen that the plant needs
we might also reducing the organic matter in the
carbon in the soil. Can you speak to that? Well, that’s an interesting– mineralization is a
natural process. It’s part of the process and
plants convert residue into plant material. You think about you’ve got a
protozoa eating a bacteria. You have to consume so many. And it’s through that release,
that waste product, of consuming that bacteria, that
other microbe, that’s when the mineralization occurs. So the carbon, I think
it’s in protozoa like a 30 to 1 CN ratio. If it eats an organism
that it has a 13 to 1 something like that. So they’re going to eat more
carbons than they are than the nitrogens they need. So that’s where the nitrogen
gets released. The carbon is actually tied up
in the biomass of the microbe. So you’re not degrading or
losing carbon to the atmosphere. I mean, there is a little
through respiration. But most of it’s tied up in
the bodies of the plant organism or the microbes. Does that make sense? Yes. Yes it does. Another question here. With the realization that most
of our food crops are annual plants, the question is how do
you know this combination of food crops, which are annual,
and cover crops, which are annual, how does that kind of
mimic a natural ecosystems? Which the question is say
dominated by perennial plants? In other words, the concern
is we’re trying to mimic a natural ecosystem with annual
crops when the natural system’s actually predominated
by perennial crops. That’s a great observation
and we can’t. The bottom line is we are
trying to mimic those ecosystems– you look at a steady
state ecosystem. You go out to a forest, you go
out to a prairie, what are the characteristics that make
them resilient? What are the characteristics
that allow them to function? That allow nutrients to cycle,
allow water to get into them? And this is an all day
discussion, folks. But basically, we’re looking at
diversity, we’re looking at low disturbance. Those are the two keys. So can we mimic that? Yeah, we can mimic that. Will it be potentially or
equally as stable as a long term prairie or forest
longleaf pine or something like that? No. But it’s those principles that
we’re trying to mimic, not necessarily the utilization of
the same plant materials. There’s a couple more questions
here, but I think we’ve got it’s about 12 till, so
I want to make sure you’re able to get through
your presentation. So continue on and we’ll
see if we can take some more questions. OK, let’s talk about
keeping it covered. We all know the benefits
of cover, residue. Keep it on the ground. We’ve been pounding people
on the head since 1985 farm bill on that. So I won’t talk about that with
the exception of soil temperature. Cover reduces soil
temperature. Just it’s a tremendous thing. Here’s a snapshot. A lot folks have seen this. Where you have cover, where
you have shade, soil temperature is 87, where it’s
exposed (107), and look at all that residue behind there. So it takes more than just
leaving a minute amount of residue on the ground to
keep the soil cool. Why is that important? Look at this, folks. Anything below 95 degrees most
of the moisture that’s available to the plant stays
with growing plant. That’s huge. Anything 95, 100, 105, most of
the moisture goes to keep just for survival, goes through
evapo transpiration. We’re just keeping
the plant alive. There’s no vegetative
growth taking place. And then we can hit temperatures
in the soil that can actually start to kill off
the microbes in the soil. That’s why soil temperature
is important. And the other thing to keep in
mind, it can be 100 degrees in the soil and only be 90
degrees in the air. It’s that intensive sunlight
that’s hitting the soil that causes that soil temperature
to warm up, that one or two inch depth. I’m going to go through these
real quick because I do want to show a soil health
management system. But here’s important to
remember, for every 1% organic matter, that should be a half
acre inch of water. That’s about 13,500 gallons of
water or something like that. So 1% organic matter equals
about a half a acre inch of water available to that
plant in that critical time of the year. I’m going to go past this. And then the other thing about
organic matter that’s important why we want
to keep it covered. There’s basically for every
1,000 pounds or every 1% organic matter it’s 10,000 of
carbon, 1,000 pounds of nitrogen, and you
can see that. This is where that
mineralization comes from. That doesn’t mean all that
nitrogen’s available, but it means it’s in the soil that can
be potentially tapped into and utilized in a
healthy system. So going to go back
this, Mark. Now these are the four
principles to how we incorporate that into building
up a system. What is a soil health
management system? Folks, it’s just a collection of
conservation practices that focus on maintaining or
enhancing soil health. Trying to utilize our existing
NRCS conservation practice standards, because they’re good,
they’ve been through a vetting process, and those
types are updated periodically, those
types of things. And the key to this system
is it is a system. It incorporates those practices
or a combination of practices that address all of
the soil health planning principles I talk about. And it has to be implemented
as a system. If it’s not you’re not going
to get the full benefit. And the other thing is it’s
farming enterprise specific. By that I mean if you’re raising
corn and beans you may have one collection of practices
and where if you’re raising cotton or peanuts
it might be another. And if you’re in the
West raising vegetables it might be another. So crop or farming enterprise
specific. So I looked at our practice
standards. This is something that you do. You know, folks, there’s
161 different practice standards out there? That’s pretty interesting
because it’s kind of overwhelming to think
oh, I got all these practice standards. There’s going to be too
many combinations. Well not really, folks. Out of the 161, 97 the engineers
have the lead on. So that tells me if an
engineer’s doing it, it’s probably not a soil health
building practice. No offense to the engineers, but
that’s just the way it is. Of the remaining is 21
that the National Agronomist has a lead on. 13 are primarily for erosion
control, and four of them are for residue management. And the grazers only
have about nine. So we’ve reduced 161 down to
about an assortment of about 25 to 30 different practices
to start to build these systems from. So what we’ve done, and Mark
and some others across the country have helped put this
together, we’ve kind of came up with a philosophy that we’re
going to identify some must do practices. These are the key practices
that achieve the greatest impact on soil health. They address the planning
principles, they’re cropping specific, system specific, and
they have that synergistic effect that gives us
the largest return. That’s what we’re looking for. And folks, if I could talk to
you one on one you could probably tell me what
these practices are. Most of the time it’s going to
conservation crop rotation. It’s going to be cover crop,
it’s going to be no till system, it’s going to be
nutrient management, pest management. Once you get beyond those you’re
probably moving out of those must do realm. The second category of those
practices that are on an as applicable basis, that means
those are ones that are addressing resource concerns
that may not occur in all fields. They’re kind of site specific
such as irrigation, water management, or some of the
buffer practices that I mentioned earlier. And then there’s the last
category is this whole idea of new technology that doesn’t
fit anywhere in our standards yet. Conservation standards move
along at kind of a snail’s pace, so to speak, but
technology doesn’t. So they do improve
soil health. Some good examples are
controlled traffic pattern. It’s huge in the Midwest,
reducing the impact of compaction. Precision application and
nutrients and pesticides, getting variable amounts based
on the soil condition needs. Use of flotation tires. Those are all activities that
we would consider best accepted new technologies that
may or may not fit into a practice standard. Here, we have to talk
a little bit about controlled traffic patterns. I’ve spent years as a DC trying
to combat compaction in the Midwest when I was
up in Indiana. And this is something that’s
come along to help do that. OK. So the cropping system
is specific. And we’ve developed some
templates and I’m going to try and go to one right now. Oops, that didn’t do it. Here’s a template from
the Midwest. Hey, I got lucky there. What we’ve done is gone in and
put together a template. Your poll question is still
showing on my screen. Oh, is it? Oh, I know what I’ve
got to do. Hold on, I’m sorry. There you go. That’s how you. Now can you see it, Mark? I’m still seeing– yeah, it popped in now. OK. And I apologize for going
fast here, folks. But basically what we tried to
do is develop templates with the expectation that states
would take this concept and apply it at their level. So here’s an example from the
Midwest in which we’ve got a typical corn soybean
rotation or corn soybean wheat rotation. The primary soil health resource
concerns in this particular– this is Indiana,
Ohio, Michigan, type of thing– you’ve got compaction,
you’ve got erosion, you’ve got loss of soil organic matter. That’s what we’re trying to
address by this cropping system, a soil health
management system. So we’re saying basic practices,
the must do practices, are crop rotation,
residue management, cover crop, nutrient management. And then within each one we say
OK, you need to address the quality criteria for
cover crop would be the general criteria. It’s got to be going in
a plant sequence. We also say that the crop
rotation has to have a positive organic subfactor,
those types of things like that. We also say for this particular
one, in addition to meeting the general criteria
they need to meet the criteria to improve soil organic matter
and increase biodiversity. But then here’s the key part
of this specific criteria. How do you make this work within
a system recognizing that you have to be
a realist too? We realize that folks are still
going to grow crops. So I guess we can’t be
perfect all the time. I guess what I’m trying
to say here. So we’re looking at specific
criteria that the rotation must include plants from three
of the four different crop types, the warm season grass,
warm season broadleaf. That type of thing. The second one, they decided was
the practice is considered applied when most beneficial
crops were improving soil carbon is planted. So those for the rotation. Down here for the cover crop, or
for the residue management, the 329, the no till, they’re
saying that they had to meet the general criteria, meet the
criteria for soil organic matter content, and then they
have to do this on 75% of the crops growing in the rotation. It talks about tillage can be
used only for crops where no till is not feasible at this
current time, such as sugar beets, potatoes, and so forth. They have to keep a STIR
value of less than 30. So again, those are the criteria
that the folks from that particular geographical
area of the country decided to emphasize for this system. So Mark, you got any
comments on that? I might switch over to another
example while you’re wanting to add anything to that. Or if you have any questions
you would like to ask. Yeah, there’s actually
several comments and questions that I’m– we’re probably not have time to
answer, so I’m going to see if there’s a way I can save
these and maybe we’ll be able to answer them offline. Well why don’t we go
ahead and just get started with questions? And then we’ve got some time
left here and just see where that takes us. That might be more beneficial
than me running through another example on this. OK. There’s a couple questions that
deal with drainage water management and how that
fits into this realm of soil health. OK. Well, drainage water
management is– I’m pretty weak on this–
is my understanding is a system that is– you try to disrupt the installed
drainage system, you allow the water, the soil to
stay saturated, you create an anaerobic condition. So you don’t get
nitrification. Those types of things. So I think it’s probably has
some places but I would be– you think about getting
tens of thousands of beans and acres. That’s probably got some
limitations, I know. You’ve probably actually got
more experience with that, Mark, if you want to
comment on that. Well, it certainly has its
place, particularly when you think about very flat areas that
you can get quite a bit of drainage behind,
I do think. It’s definitely got some
benefits say in the Lake Erie basin up in our state in Ohio. And there’s different types of
structures that are beneficial that are being researched as
to their effectiveness. But yeah, they certainly
have a place. I think there’s a
lot of practices that have places here. The ones I think you were
emphasizing are kind of the key ones that we really are
kind of a must do in most cases to get this
to work for us. My concern, again, thinking
about we’re creating a habitat for microbes to flourish, and
my only concern about that type of a practice, and I think
it’s something that really needs to be looked into,
this idea we’ve created an anaerobic aerobic
situation. Anaerobic aerobic. And it tends to be our microbes
that cause us the most problem. Diseases tend to flourish under
anaerobic conditions. So we’re creating an environment
in which we’re almost encouraging those
microbes that we probably don’t want in the
soil to survive. And the other thing I guess I
would be concerned about is this idea of when you go
anaerobic what’s the main process that the world enjoys,
if it’s an anaerobic process, is fermentation. And you can produce alcohols
in the soil. And plant roots do not
like alcohols. It’s like one, less than one
part per million or something to discourage with alcohols. So it doesn’t take much. I think we need some really good
research into the impact on the biological community by
going from this saturated to non saturated anaerobic
or aerobic condition. So if I’m not a big fan, that’s
not because I’m not a big fan of that. Anyway, what’s the
next question? How long does cover crop need
to be in place in order to receive benefit? Again, I think if we get them
in there six, eight weeks, you’re going to start to receive
some benefits from those plant exudates that
go into the soil. Now you’re going to get 10,000
pounds of biomass, no, you’re not going to get that. But you are going
to get benefit. And the other thing to remember
about cover crop roots is they all have different
rooting depths. Some root shallow,
some root deep. And even in that time– so
that’s like annual rye grass– it doesn’t put on– compared to the biomass it
produces above ground it puts on quite a bit more root
mass below ground. So again, we need to think about
that aspect of things. Just a period of time you’re
introducing new exudates, you’re stimulating microbes
that have been starved for years, maybe have gone into a
hibernation type of mode, and that’s benefit in itself. OK. The question here from Chance,
shouldn’t we promote an integration of livestock as our
principle of soil health? In other words, getting those
microbes from the livestock incorporated into
those principles And if you want to learn about
that, next Tuesday we have an excellent presentation from Jay
Fuhrer who’s going to be talking about that
very subject. A great segue into that. And yes I do. I think that we should be, but
I’m also a realist and realize once the pigs leave the farm
it’s hard to get them back. And most livestock producers do
it because they make money but there’s an attachment
there. And a lot of farmers don’t have
that attachment anymore. So it should be done, but
is it going to be done on a huge scale? I would question that. OK, this is a more philosophical
question about maybe trying to promote
soil health. The question deals with how
can we promote this in the marketplace so that it kind of
gets some notoriety and some support economically as well? Well that’s a good question. I think one thing we can do is
work with our agribusinesses. I think you brought
up a good– I don’t know if you
mentioned that. Did you talk about
The Furrow, Mark? Yeah, not online though. It was before that. Yeah, well why don’t you talk
about that the next time? I mean you think that we
are having an effect. Well, that’s your story. Go ahead and tell it. It’s a good story. Well, and maybe many of
you have seen it. The last couple editions of The
Furrow, which is basically a publication that John Deere
puts out, really has some very nice articles on cover crops,
on soil health, the microbiology of the soil, and
very, very good articles with a lot of good names
of top researchers across the country that– I just think it’s kind of nice
to know that the word’s getting out when we’ve got
implement dealers that are kind of taking this on in their
publications as well. And again, as far as promoting
it, I think as professional conservationists the more we
understand the principles that I talked about and how they can
apply, I don’t think we need to be the ones that
figure out how the best seeding methods we need to
be familiar with that. But we need to be able to
explain the principles, explain why they’re
beneficial. Farmers will figure it out. They are not afraid. I can remember a supervisor
I had. He had bought a brand
new sprayer. Cost him 80 grand. The first time I saw it he was
straddling the thing with a blow torch because he felt
he could improve it. That’s my point. Farmers aren’t afraid to try
things if they believe in it. And so we need to convince them
that these principles are applicable and beneficial. And the bottom line is
they’ll pay in money. And we can sit here and talk
about examples from Pennsylvania to California and
Maine to New Mexico of farmers that have benefited their bottom
line by improving their soil health and reaping those
soil function benefits that I talked about. Well, I’ve got a little
bit after three at this point, David. There are still quite a few
questions that I will try to capture and put them into
an email to you. I don’t know if there’s anything
we need to do in the way of housekeeping as we– I know there are some
questions about will this be recorded. It is recorded, obviously, where
will they have access to the slide presentation
and things like that. OK. And I will stop this and
turn it over to Holli. How do I do that, Holli? Well, I’ll let Emily do it,
because I’m obviously not doing a very good job. OK, well, while we’re waiting on
that I would like to thank Mark Scarpitti, who did just an
excellent job as our guest moderator today. I think that we’ll be calling on
Mark again someday soon and hopefully he would be willing
to give us a hand. I appreciate it a lot, Mark. And thank you also David for
your excellent presentation. And I’m sure you’ll start
getting some calls for more information on soil health
management systems. Emily, are we wrapped up then
with any questions that may have come in from
the audience? I have not seen any
hands go up. All right, then, well I think
with our thanks to Mark and our thanks to David and always
our thanks to Emily who is a joy to work with, with AT&T,
this is Holli Kuykendall and I think we can sign off today. And we appreciate everyone’s
attendance. Thank you very much.


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