Benefits of using conservation farming practices are linked to improved soil health, as well as water and nutrient management. A few for farmers to remember include: using cover crops, rotating crops, and conservation tillage.
Use of Cover Crops
This time of year, farmers across the southeast are enjoying the much sought after sense of accomplishment and relief after reaping the benefits of their fall harvest. Even though another season is over, farmers are strategically planning the selection and planting of their next crop, a winter season forage or cover crop. Instead of allowing the topsoil to lay bare and remain exposed to the environment, the chosen cover crop will shield the topsoil from excess heat and solar radiation, wind, and rainfall events. The cover crop will help the land retain nutrients and suppress the occurrence of pests that once targeted the previous plants grown there. In addition to these benefits, some cover crops provide extra income to the farmer (such as seed or hay production).
Diversifying Cropping Systems
Crop rotation is another key principle of conservation agriculture that can be seen in practice around our region. There are several benefits of implementing rotating crops including improved nutrient cycling, soil tilth, soil physical properties, as well as enhanced pest control. Crop rotation may also influence the rate of N mineralization or the conversion of organic N to mineral N by modifying soil moisture, soil temperature, pH, plant residue, and tillage practices. Planting the same crop in the same location season after season encourages certain weeds, insects and diseases. Planting different crops breaks life cycles of these pests and prevents them from regenerating. A possible example of this is seen when a farmer grows peanuts one year followed by corn or cotton, and then possibly sweet potatoes the year after that. Here in North Florida, crops going into a rotation that have been gaining in popularity include snap bean, watermelon, carrot, and sweet potato.
Conservation tillage as a system that leaves enough crop residues from cover crops and/or cash crops on the soil surface after planting to provide at least 30% soil cover. Together with previous crop residue, conservation tillage has the potential to reduce erosion, increase rainfall infiltration, reduce subsurface compaction, and maximize soil organic carbon accumulation, which positively affects many soil physical and chemical properties. (UF Extension specialist: David Wright.) Examples of types of conservation cultivation include; strip till, reduced till, mulch till, and no till techniques. Read more here.
Producing Peanuts Using Conservation Tillage. D.L. Wright, B.L. Tillman, I. M. Small, J. A. Ferrell. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag187
UF/IFAS Extension in Suwannee County is an Equal Opportunity Institution.