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Armor the land

Attend Aug. 1 Cover Crop "How To" field day about soil health and land management
Michael Walgrave, Rock County Land Management technician

“If civilization is to avoid a long decline, like the one that has blighted North Africa or the Near East for 13 centuries, society must be born again out of an economy of exploitation into an economy of conservation.”  — W.C. Lowdermilk, former Assistant Chief of Soil Conservation Service and author of “Conquest of the Land Through 7,000 Years.”
Armor the Land
Attend Aug. 1 Cover Crop ‘How To’ field day about soil health and land management
By Michael Walgrave, engineering technician,
Rock County Land Management Office and Soil and Water Conservation District
During a recent ag drainage workshop, a respected soil scientist from the University of Minnesota spoke about the importance of soil structure and organic matter for managing water and drainage in farm fields.
She apologized to the farmers in the room that the U of M and the USDA have only in the last few years recognized that conventional tillage destroys more than it helps. 
She apologized that American universities in general have overpromoted tillage and tiling as “best- management practices.” 
And she apologized that universities and USDA have overlooked soil biology in favor of chemistry-focused farming.
Our respected institutions of higher learning and the USDA haven’t given the farmer all of the information they need to make good decisions.
For me, it was good to hear that the government and the universities had finally realized and admitted their short-sightedness and were evolving their knowledge.     
I have an agribusiness degree with an emphasis in sustainability from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and professors never mentioned cover crops, conservation tillage, or soil health principles. 
Since I graduated in 2012, I’ve learned that understanding your soil is one of the most important aspects of farming, gardening, and maintaining farmland value. If you don’t know your soil and how to manage it, you will not know how to efficiently and profitably farm. 
Follow these five principles of soil health
So what is the best way to farm? What is the most ethical and profitable way to farm?
There are many different ways to farm, but following soil health principles is definitely the key to getting the most out of your land. 
If you follow the principles of soil health, it doesn’t matter the soil or operation you farm.  The Sustainable Farming Association has simplified soil health to five principles:
1. Keep soil covered.
2. Minimize soil disturbances.
3. Increase crop diversity.
4. Keep living roots in the soil.
5. Integrate livestock. 
This past year most of Minnesota has been hit by record rainfall, and we have experienced as many super-storm rain events in the last two decades as we have the entire 20th century. 
Wetlands help buffer against rain, but farmers had tilled and tiled away most of these holding areas by 1985. The terra-formed land has put the watersheds back to a state that didn’t exist since the last ice age. Watersheds have been transformed. 
Conventional tillage hasn’t helped us or future generations address these weather events either.  Farmers have been taught to till in order to get seed-to-soil contact and to help dry the land more quickly in the spring. 
Unfortunately, tilling destroys soil structure and the water-holding capacity of the soil.  Without good soil structure a good portion of water doesn’t make it to the tile and the water washes over the surface creating erosion and soil/nutrient loss. 
Attend Cover Crop
‘How To’ event Aug. 1
On Thursday, Aug. 1, the Rock County Land Management Office will host a cover crop “How To” field day event to discuss soil health and land management.
It’s from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Tom Fick’s field at 1157 110th Avenue near Luverne. There is no cost to attend. Call 507-283-8862 with questions.
Landowners, farmers, agronomists and gardeners are strongly encouraged to attend this event to understand the new soil health campaign being promoted by the USDA. 
Soil health principles are solutions to the problems we face as an agricultural community.
Let’s protect our countryside. Let’s armor the land.

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