Soil Conservation Education A Priority

Conservation agriculture improves soil structure and protects the soil against erosion and nutrient losses by maintaining a permanent soil cover and minimizing soil disturbance. Farmers care about being good stewards of the land and implementing positive conservation practices. They attend events to learn more about the soil in their areas, cover crops, and environmental care.

Dustin Ladd, Juneau County Conservationist, shares more on their different watershed groups, demonstrations, and simulators they have to help educate farmers on how to have good soil management.

One of the groups that Ladd works with is the Producers of Lake Redstone. They are a farmer led group that is funded by the Department of Agriculture. They have multiple events each year with their next event coming up on September 28. At this event they will have a drone seeding cover crops. 

The drone that’s going to be applying cover crops has a carrying capacity of 75 pounds and is able to plant about twenty acres an hour. This drone is run completely off of a GPS so they are able to get pretty exact in the field where they apply the cover crops. 

“I think for the future, drones are definitely going to be utilized more often,” says Ladd. “It would just be one less thing that the farmer would have to worry about.”

Ladd also helped to put on a rainfall simulator. This simulator is a trailer with trays in it that simulates one inch of rainfall in just about a minute. It allows farmers to see what is happening with different soil types and different conservation practices. They can see what’s happening when it rains on the land, if the water is infiltrating or running off, and what’s happening when it runs off.  

Ladd suggests that farmers start with a rye or wheat cover crop to help with runoff. Once farmers get a little more comfortable, he encourages them to try multi-species cover crops that have a little bit of everything in it and if they get a little further along, they can start doing some growing season cover crops. 

“We had a good year as far as erosion goes. There were acres that you could tell where some things got a little more tillage this year than other years and you could definitely see the difference in the spring with some of our early heavy rainfall events. It was easy to tell what areas had cover crops and what areas didn’t,” says Ladd.

Ladd also works with the Farmers of the Lemonweir Valley. They will be hosting a field day on September 8, 2022 with Jamie Patton from UW-Extension coming to explain soil pits. She will highlight areas that have high compaction and what different cropping practices are doing to the soil and the soil structure. They will also have a seasonal buffer strip with cover crops.

“These new farmer groups and what we’re doing with them can definitely show off all the different things that are happening,” adds Ladd.  “Some farmers that may be later adopters of these conservation practices are able to see what their neighbors are doing.”

Ladd continues that farmers are more likely to adopt the conservation practices by hearing about it from their neighbors rather than an agency staff member. Word of mouth from their peers on what is good for the farmer, the land, and how they’re doing it helps farmers to ensure that there is good soil to continue farming for future generations.