NRCS implementing grant to promote research into benefits of no-till
NEW BRUNSWICK — The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is implementing a conservation innovation pilot program to promote research into the benefits of no-till.
Bridgette Hilshey of NRCS was joined by three farmers to talk about this program at the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey Winter Conference at Douglass College on Saturday, Feb. 1.
Mike Rassweiler of North Slope Farm in Lambertville, president of NOFA-NJ, said the purpose of the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant is to focus on interaction among farmers.
The trial program will involve three farms in each of four states: New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. There will be two farm tours each season in each state, Rassweiler explained. The farms participating in the no-till pilot program will have soil samples taken and analyzed, he said. In addition worm counts and density analysis will be taken.
Hilshey explained the program will provide conservation innovation grants with a goal of bringing the practices of regenerative agriculture to bigger producers. These practices include minimum soil disturbance and maximum crop diversity.
She said the NRCS received a large grant as part of the Farm Bill’s $6 million to use for farm demonstration projects. The CIG will explore strategies for cover crop termination. Each farmer will receive a stipend of $1,000 a year to compensate them for filling out the necessary forms and attend an annual conference. The NRCS will cost-share equipment with the farmers up to $20,000 each, Hilshey said. Generally the farmers purchase a roller/crimper.
Both organic and conventional farms will be accepted as will farms transitioning to organic, she said.
There will be a three-phase evaluation including comprehensive soil analysis. Each farmer will be required to keep a diary. NRCS staff will also interview the farmers.
Rassweiler practices no-till now. He owns 50 acres and on various blocks used chisel, roto-till and mechanical cultivation. He now just rips furrows and fills with compost. “I’m not digging, just mixing soil,” he said. He employs surface harrowing and tries to get cover crops established for winter.
He described his solarization project which consists of stretching greenhouse plastic tightly over the area that had a cover crop. This kills surface vegetation and directs seed into the bed without bringing up weed seed. This reduces the need for hoeing.
Hilshey said she likes the solarization idea, but the grant focuses on other cover crop methods.
“Sometimes I rake, sometimes kick debris off,” Rassweiler said, noting he sometimes uses a broadfork. He uses a power harrow for shallow surface churning. He uses a pin-point seeder.
Rassweiler records his practices and yields and is hoping for a grant.
Scott Morgan of Morganics Family Farm in Hillsboro is also interested in a CIG grant. He grows grains using traditional no-till practices while remaining organic. He noted a lot of no-till is chemically intensive.
He admitted to some problems. He planted chickpeas into his crop of winter wheat and deer ate all the chickpeas. He also had a significant thistle problem and lost a lot of soil in a big rain.
The CIG program is designed to help farmers get together with other farmers, Morgan said. He said he has a field day on the farm for the summer solstice which is near the end of the rye crop.
Jen Salimetti, who farms in Tyringham, Mass., in the Berkshires, takes communicating with other farmers serious. She said she recently held a workshop on the no-till processes she uses at her vegetable farm and education center. She meets with nine other farmers and they learn from each other, she said.
Salimetti has been farming for 20 years, 15 doing no-till by hand. She has 10 acres, 1 1/2 under production.
“You have to work in relationship with the soil,” she said. “When we plowed, washouts were constant.”
“We build our beds from the top down,” she said. “We only disturb the top inch when we incorporate compost.” During a serious drought she didn’t have to water as much as other area farmers because of her no-till practices.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925