Timely Topics

No Till Farming and Soil Health

‘Exploring Soil Health’ is the subtitle of this year’s Virginia No-Till Alliance conference to be held at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds in Harrisonburg from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. next Tuesday, Feb. 18. To register go to www.virginianotill.com or call the Rockingham Extension office at (540) 564-3080 by Friday, Feb. 14. The $10 fee can be paid in advance or at the door and covers lunch and materials as well as the equipment and trade show that will also be at the Fairgrounds

I once heard a soil scientist compare a very healthy vibrant soil to an apartment complex. The soil being an intricately designed multi-family dwelling that supports micro and macro organisms that navigate through a matrix of living plant roots, decaying plant material, nutrient rich water, and soil minerals that taken together serve as both home and nutritious buffet for a web of plant and animal life. Anytime we take a plow, disc, or roto-tiller to that condominium, we destroy the entire structure and it takes months or even years for the organisms to restore the community.

For centuries following the dawn of agriculture, tillage was a necessary step to suppress existing plant life and give the seeds we humans wanted to grow a chance germinate and thrive. In the 1960s some of the first commercially successful no-till planting (sometimes called “direct seeding”) was done here in Rockbridge County on Cherry Grove Farm in Fairfield. For all the worry and controversy associated with herbicides today, chemical weed control remains the essential component of the notill approach to farming and scientists have documented millions of tons of top soil have been preserved thanks to herbicides and no-till farming techniques.

The no-till farming and the annual No-till Conference are topics I have addressed in this column before. But there is a new sense of relevance, even urgency for this topic. The science of the carbon cycle is at the heart of issues associated with climate disruption. I am an advocate for the highly constructive role our farmers can play, are playing, in capturing carbon in the soils they steward every day. No-tillage, direct seeding practices are an essential component of that work.

The News-Gazette

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