Soil conservation helps reduce soil erosion, enhances water supplies, improves water quality, increases wildlife habitat, and reduces damages caused by floods and other natural disasters. Public benefits include enhanced natural resources that help sustain agricultural productivity and environmental quality while supporting continued economic development, recreation, and scenic beauty.
Our Homer Township farm has 2.7 acres enrolled in Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) as a Riparian Buffer. CREP is a voluntary land retirement program that helps agricultural producers protect environmentally sensitive land, decrease erosion, restore wildlife habitat, and safeguard ground and surface water. A riparian buffer is a forested area (a “buffer strip”) near a stream, which helps shade and partially protect a stream from the impact of adjacent land uses.
In addition to CREP, our soil conservation plan utilizes minimum tillage as well as the cultural practices of cover crops rotation and mulching for sustainable farming practice. No-till was considered but, has true disadvantages in organic farming. The first and main concern is its reliance on herbicides to control weeds. Another concern is that no-till cannot incorporate organic material into the soil. Garlic prefers soil with high organic matter content. In addition, soil improvement with no-till takes many years. Soil tests have revealed soil nutrient deficiencies which will need to be improved in the near-term.
Minimum tillage is a method of tillage in which the soil has been disturbed to a lesser extent relative to the conventional tillage (repeated plowed/harrow till). The major advantage of minimum tillage lies in the improvement of soil structure due to more protective surface residue cover and reduction in soil compaction resulting from reduced farm traffic. Thus, a soil under minimum tillage will experience less soil erosion and degradation relative to conventionally tilled soil.
Mulch tillage is a tillage system in which a significant portion of crop residue is left on the soil surface to reduce erosion. It is usually accomplished by substituting chisel plows, sweep cultivators, or disk harrows for the moldboard plow or disk plow in primary tillage. This change in implements is attractive to organic growers because residues are not buried deep in the soil, and good aerobic decomposition is thus encouraged. Of all the agronomic-scale options, mulch tillage is the most easily adapted to organic management and is appropriate for most agronomic and many horticultural crops. Using a chisel plow instead of a moldboard plow lessens the destruction of soil structure and causes less crusting and erosion. Chisel plowing is a form of mulch tillage, in which residues are mixed in the upper layers of the soil; a significant percentage remains on the soil surface to reduce erosion.
At certain times in the tillage rotation, intensive and even inversion tillage may be required. For example, in our fields that are heavily infested with weeds, deep plowing with a moldboard plow can significantly reduce weed emergence. For this reason, it is essential to completely invert the soil to bury the weed seeds below the germinating zone.