August 11, 2013

Cooperative Extension offering no-till seeder


WEST CHAZY — Clinton County farmer Sam Dyer is looking at adding options to corn silage for his dairy herd’s diet.

Corn is a very expensive crop to harvest and often produces discouraging results, particularly during an exceptionally wet season like the North Country has battled through this summer.

Dyer is testing a new option this summer by planting one of his historically less-productive fields with sorgum. He also planted the seeds using an innovative procedure called no-till drilling that distributes seeds quickly without having to till the soil.

“We’ll know (how successful the new crop is) when we test it in the fall, if it provides enough energy,” Dyer said during a recent workshop at his Duquette Road farm where area farmers learned about the potential no-till seeding can provide to them and their businesses.

Helps protect lake

“We’re taking a look at lake-friendly farming activities, things farmers can do to protect the lake,” said Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator for Cooperative Extension of Clinton County, in describing a series of workshops being held this summer for the region’s farmers. “Today, our focus is on no-till drilling.”

The Clinton County Soil and Water Conservation District  has purchased a 10-foot no-till drill, which is used to spread seeds on pasture lands without first tilling the soil. The equipment was purchased with financial support from the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Dyer purchased his own no-till drill several years ago and has been using it for the more difficult pastures where he has in the past had difficulty plowing because of excess rocks and stones in the fields.

With the no-till method, those obstacles do not have to be removed, he noted.

The technique also cuts down on the amount of time needed to prepare a field for seeding, and it cuts down on the amount of fuel needed to plow as well as the number of headaches caused by traditional methods, Dyer joked.

The standard rental charge is $15 per acre of pasture seeded. Technicians from the Soil and Water Conservation District will deliver the equipment and help calibrate machinery for the specific types of seeds the farmer is looking to plant. Farmers are liable for cleaning the equipment, including removal of all seeds, prior to returning the spreader to the county.

The drill has two separate compartments for seeds, one to hold larger seeds like corn and the other to store smaller seeds like alfalfa and timothy.

Process simplified

The equipment’s environmental advantages are also impressive, Hagar noted.

“It simplifies placing cover crops on fields for the winter,” he said. “Many of our farmers are not using winter cover crops for whatever reasons. Without this type of drill, it’s hard to find the time to plow fields later in the season. With it, you can put in a crop of winter rye and protect your exposed soil, protect the lake.”

Winter rye is an ideal crop cover for the off season and can be planted up to Oct. 15, Hagar said.

“It grows fast, it holds onto nutrients, and in the spring it can add nutrients to the field (when preparing for the next season’s crops).”

No-till drills were developed to permit establishment of new forage grasses and legumes in existing pastures and hay fields or to establish a new seeding following harvest of a row crop with less soil disturbance than conventional planting methods, said Kitty O’Neil in a fact sheet released by Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The no-till approach eliminates the need for plowing or disking, minimizes soil loss from erosion and protects soil structure and health, she continued. It also conserves soil moisture, limits surface water runoff and requires fewer field operations.

Cooperative Extension suggests that farmers have their soils tested prior to seeding. Soil pH and fertility need to be within an acceptable range to support productive plant growth.

Weed control needed

Seedlings will not compete as well if they are shaded by existing weeds or forage plants. New seeds should be planted just after mowing, grazing or herbicide application to reduce competition.

No-till seeding of forage crops can be used to replace rundown pastures and hay fields, to supplement existing forage resources or to establish forages on land subject to erosion.

Cooperative Extension and the Basin Program have held a series of workshops across the county this summer to promote best-management practices for area farmers.

“Farmers are not considering these practices to save the lake,” Hagar said. “They’re looking into what makes sense to them, what can improve their farm yield. The fact that these best-management practices are beneficial to the lake’s health is an extra bonus.

“No matter where you are in the Lake Champlain basin, efforts to reduce erosion and runoff will be a benefit to the lake’s water quality.”

The workshops have been designed to promote lake-friendly farming practices while sustaining economic return for farmers, he added.

“As an outreach, it seemed like the best cost-effective method to get farmers together,” said Myra Lawyer, agronomist for the Basin Program. “Our goal is to highlight the best-management practices farms are using to prevent phosphorus (from entering Lake Champlain).”

Area farmers seem to be buying into such best-management practices, she added.

“They are really enthusiastic about farming practices that help the environment as well as the economic bottom line,” she said. “I’ve often heard them use the statement, ‘If you don’t take care of the soil, you don’t have an income.’”

Many techniques offered

Lawyer began working as an agronomist for the Basin Program late last year as an addition to three agronomists on staff that have been serving Vermont farmers.

“We’re basically looking at projects farmers want to try, including grazing practices, nutrient-management plans, drawing down fertilizer, using manure,” she said.

For instance, no-drill tilling can be used for several best-management practices, she noted.

“The no-drill tills are very comprehensive,” she said. 

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For more information about forage seeding or other field crop and soil management topics, contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office or Kitty O'Neill, CCE Northern New York at 315-379-9192, Ext. 253 or email