Safeguarding soil

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Jan 27, 2014
A while back I came across a story about an ant and how an individual observing the ant’s task, couldn’t help but take notice of its determination. He watched it for quite some time as it would load a kernel of corn on its back and head up the wall, only to get half way to the top and drop the kernel. Down it would crawl, pick up its load and repeat the journey, only to come up short of its goal once again.

The most interesting thing about the ant’s undertaking that the story teller related was the ant’s resolve; it would not relent. Sixty-nine times it would hoist its consignment and begin the climb again, just to end up even closer to its destination than the previous journey, yet only to come up short one more time. Why the ant would not quit we may never know, but the important lesson was found in the 70th trip, as it hoisted its cache a final time and trekked right over the top to its terminus.

I like what Newt Gingrich said; it’s something we should all keep in mind — “perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did” Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the country have been working to protect our natural resources for more than 70 years now. In fact, it was in 1941 when the Ohio Soil Conservation Enabling Act (HB 646) created the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission. One year later, the first Ohio District (Highland) was formed. Today, each of the 88 counties benefit from their District’s efforts.

Each year, Soil and Water Conservation Districts promote and exemplify the stewardship concept: every land user is personally and socially responsible for the protection and proper management of our natural resources. Our theme this year, “Dig Deeper: Mysteries in the Soil , will address the issues and concerns of not only the farmer, but also the developer, the ecologist and the suburbanite. Our soil is the foundation where all things are built upon and where our food and fiber are grown. We cannot live without it.

For years now we have taken a hard look at USDA’s National Resources Inventory, a summary report that allows us to see what’s going on throughout the country with regard to the landscape and our farmland. It has proven to be a resourceful tool to let us know what’s working, and sometimes, what might have missed the mark. Just like the ant’s situation, try as we might there probably have been times the SWCD has come up a little short on our mission. Yet, we choose not to allow the circumstances to shape our future, but to sculpt our direction, purpose and most assuredly, the end result we intend to attain.

Cropland erosion remains a concern in almost every state and particularly here, close to home in the Lake Erie watershed. More intense and frequent storm events have posed their own challenges over the past decade. Even though more land is in production today than ever before, encouraging is the fact that we’ve seen some noticeable growth in conservation programs and better land management practices, from no-till to the use of cover crops and grassed buffers. According to the NRI, voluntary participation and enrollment into Farm Bill programs has increased from around 17 million acres in 2007 to approximately 40 million acres in 2010.

Also reassuring is the commitment of the agricultural producer to help resolve many of today’s water quality issues. As an “on-farm scientist” so to speak, many are either testing their own soil or having someone else test it. Some are actually looking at their farm tile or the nearby stream, pulling samples to determine the water quality in their area and seeing what they can do to improve it, if warranted.

Using proper tillage and nutrient management practices have allowed them to optimize their crop production while at the same time protect and stabilize their resource base. Installing practices, like grassed waterways, manure storage facilities, heavy-use protection areas and other BMP’s are tried. They have proven to be cost-effective methods that continue to reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, helping to keep these and other pollutants out of our streams, rivers and Lake Erie.

Soil health is the basic building block to successful crop production. The farm operator has it within his or her power to either improve or diminish their farm’s soil characteristics. A little over a week ago, local and adjacent county farm producers convened at a workshop to learn more about and discuss ecological farming practices to improve their cropland soil, making their farm operations more sustainable, organically and economically.

Guest speaker, Jim Hoorman, OSU Extension educator, will offer a repeat presentation about cover crops and soil management at an upcoming workshop on Feb. 12, at the Crawford County Courthouse in Bucyrus. Agricultural producers and farm landowners who missed Hoorman’s informative talk in Erie County are encouraged to avail themselves of the next presentation by calling 419-334-5016 to register by Feb. 7.

Safeguarding our soils has never been any more important than it is today. We will continue to go back and lift that “kernel of corn” until the Soil and Water Conservation District, our conservation partners and the farmer have achieved our mission. By doing so we ensure nutrients are properly cycled, soil structure is built up, pollutants are buffered and plant and animal life is sustained. We’ll also see to it that our water quality is made better and kept that way, for the benefit of those who will follow after us as the future land managers.