What’s your farm’s color saying?

By Kimberly Vance

Have you ever driven along and noticed the rich green color of a cornfield on one side of the road while on the other side there’s a yellowish color to the corn crop?

What about a lawn that is so manicured it has no dandelions or clover blooms in it? How about the pastures that have those dark green spots here and there?

What does this all mean? Well, from my short time as a farmer for the last 16 years, I have learned that the different colors mean something is going on — either positively or negatively. If we are good stewards of our land and take every precaution to use what we have properly, we will have abundance no matter what comes our way.

The soil will tell you

Vance Farms has had an extreme makeover in the few short years we have been farming. We began with a few dairy cows and a few beef cows on our pastures, noticing that there were dark green spots from the manure piles. What was our pasture trying to tell us? Well, it was screaming ‘feed me!’

No, the cows weren’t screaming, we were supplementing them with other feed. Our pastures simply needed more nutrients than they were getting. The dark green spots amongst the yellow-brown grass meant that we had a nutrient deficiency (soil tests confirmed this). The pastures were then provided with all necessary nutrients to improve the nutritional value.

Warning colors

As our farm grew, we decided to start planting and harvesting crops in the fields that were not used for pasture. We had to purchase fertilizers, lime and other nutrients to fortify our soils.

Over time, we noticed there were still areas where the color was more brilliant during rainy times or brown during dry times. We learned, the dark green areas were wet spots and the brown colors were the dry desolate areas where the topsoil had washed away.

How do we solve these problems? One resolution was to put in grassed waterways, so when we have hard rains all of our topsoil wasn’t rushing down the streams leaving us with fields of dusty brown shale.

Another resolution was to start using a no-till drill for planting on fields with leftover residue from the previous crops. This helped the soil stay intact, therefore, creating less soil erosion. Carroll SWCD has three no-till drills, available for rent to local farmers, which we used to help with our erosion problem.

The colors really improved as we took up no-till practices. We then decided to become wean-to-finish hog producers as well. Guess what? Hogs produce all natural fertilizers. Now that we raise 12,000 hogs per year, there is obviously an abundance of manure, what a perfect way to provide nutrients to our pastures, and croplands. This is when we really started to see the fruits of our labor.

We now have a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan through NRCS and Carroll Soil and Water Conservation District that has helped us tremendously. Proper manure management is crucial when balancing the needs of the crop fields and the needs of the farmer.

What a difference it makes. The hay fields are thicker, richer dark green colors, the corn has such vibrant color with larger ears, and we have increased our yields while doing what is right for the land. This, in turn, makes happy cows when they are eating more nutritional feed and providing us with their manure to fertilize our lawn and flower beds.

What a difference in the vivid colors of our flowers since the application of manure, not to mention the increased growth and population. I am the first to admit I do not have a green thumb, so I always say, “If it’s outside, it’s up to God and the proper stewardship of our land to make it grow.”

It takes a lot of work and dedication to practice good conservation of our land, but it is worth it in the long run when you see all of your production numbers go up.

(Kimberly Vance is the district administrator for the Carroll Soil and Water Conservation District. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)

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