SALEM, Ohio — The next time planting season rolls around, consider not using any type of tillage on those fields. That’s what a group of experts says could mean the difference between soil quality and soil health in the future.
“Soil quality” refers only to individual segments and property of the soil type, while “soil health” refers to the whole entity. Proponents of a new trend of farming called “ECO farming,” say attention to soil health will mean more benefits to farmers in the future.
ECO farmers try not to use any tillage tool, manage so a continuous live cover is left on the fields at all times, and use other best management practices.
That’s what Ray Archuleta, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s East National Technology Service Center, says when he explains the meaning of “ECO Farming.”
The term ECO farming was defined by a team including Jim Hoorman, assistant professor with OSU Extension; Archuleta; Ohio No-till Council President Dave Brandt; and Mark Scarpiti, Ohio NRCS agronomist.
ECO Farming definition
ECO farming stands for eternal no-till, continuous live cover and other best management practices. Proponents hope to eliminate tillage as much as possible.
Other best management practices include the concept of controlled traffic, water table management, manure management and integrated pest management.
The idea is to leave a continuous living cover on the soil 100 percent of the time. The living cover can include grain crops followed by cover crops, pasture or hay systems or perennial plants.
In addition, the benefits include lower input costs and fuel costs. For example, by utilizing manure only and no nitrogen, it means lower fertilizer costs. By not tilling the ground, less fuel is used to put crops in the ground.
“The goal is to protect the soil from soil erosion, increase water infiltration and decrease nutrient runoff,” said Jim Hoorman, assistant professor with Ohio State University Extension.
“The tool is no-till and cover crops, which is mimicking nature,” said Archuleta.
By utilizing cover crops and by not using tillage, the nutrients are trapped in the soil, helping the plants to grow.
“Nature has provided the template. All we have to do is follow it,” said Archuleta. “For 100 to 200 years, farmers have been tilling the soil and basically mining it of the nutrients, destroying soil structure and losing 60 to 80 percent of soil organic matter. Now we can use advanced knowledge of soils, soil health and soil ecology to work with Mother Nature, rather than against her.”
Plants supply 25 to 40 percent of their carbohydrate reserves to feeding the microbes, which, in turn, recycle nitrogen, phosphorus and water back to the plant roots. This nature process improves soil structure and increases water infiltration and water storage.
Ohio No-till president Dave Brandt has been practicing the concept for more than 15 years on his farm and has reduced fertilizer inputs by as much as 70 percent, herbicide costs by 50 percent and reduced fuel consumption.
He hosted a field day at his farm last month to showcase his system. A second field day was held at the Jess Rasawehr farm near Celina.
“When you hear a farm say they haven’t used nitrogen, just cover crops and manure. It gets your head to turn,” said Archuleta.