DALTON, Ohio — Scott Myers has noticed a lot of changes over the years. Growing season seem to be shifting later by about two weeks. There’s heavier rainfall and more extreme weather events.
That’s why Myers and his father, Fred Myers, aren’t farming exactly the way they used to, either, at Woodlyn Acres Farm, in Dalton, Ohio. They’ve slowly made the shift to a mostly organic system, and have put a heavier focus on soil health to help withstand the changes in the climate and weather.
Farmers and representatives from groups including Ohio State University, Central State University, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and The Nature Conservancy met for a tour of Woodlyn Acres Farm, Aug. 16, organized by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association and focusing on organic farming and soil health practices.
For handling more extreme weather events, good management practices and focus on soil health are key, said Amalie Lipstreu, policy director for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, at the tour. Improving his soil health helped Myers handle the heavy rain in the last few growing seasons.
Other farmers at the tour also said more focus on soil health and trying new practices has helped them adapt. Jeff Dean, of Timberlane Organic Farms, in Sandusky County, has found organic farming works well for him in dry years. He started to transition his farm over after a bad drought in 1988. Between the drought and tough conventional markets, he wanted to try something different.
So, he started experimenting with a wider range of crops and rotations, and adding other soil health practices.
“Anything that’ll grow in Ohio, I think we tried,” Dean said. Now, Dean farms about 950 acres of mostly corn, wheat, clover and soybeans.
Some of the practices Woodlyn Acres Farm uses now, like soil testing and limiting tillage, are also practices they used when they farmed conventionally. The farm mainly grows corn, soybeans, sunflowers and hay, and sells the hay to both organic and conventional dairies.
Myers uses organic fertilizer, and soil testing allows him to know how much fertilizer he needs to put on. He uses techniques including weed zapping, a crop rotation, cultivating and tine weeding to help keep weeds and pests under control.
Weeds are one of the things that keeps some farmers away from organic farming, said Dave Shively, an organic farmer from Henry County. But Shively, who has been farming organically for 17 years, has found that longer term rotations with more crops than just corn and soybeans, and using cover crops, helps.
Some of Woodlyn Acres Farm’s fields are no till, but Myers still uses light tillage on some acres. He used to believe that it was best to not till at all. Now, he believes tilling in some crop residue can help feed soil microbes and keep the soil healthier.
“We try to work with the soil microbes; make the soil life basically do the work for us,” Myers said.
Myers encourages other farmers to not try new practices on more than 10% of their acres, to start. That way, they can afford to fail, if it doesn’t work out.
The transition period is the hardest part, Myers said. It costs money and time to make those changes, but in the long run, he’s found that those changes make his farm more profitable. He started by transitioning his highest quality fields first — Myers and Shively both said transitioning the best fields first gives new practices the best chance of success.
Flexible. Even now, Myers is still learning and trying new things. This year, Myers wanted to have a field of no till sunflowers. Slugs largely wiped out that field, so instead, Myers planted no till soybeans over it.
“With organic farming, and the way the weather is, you have to be flexible,” Myers said. “You’ve got to be not afraid to change, when you’re farming in general.”
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