March 31, 2013

Agency provides valuable assistance

Peter Hagar

---- — Established in 1949, the Clinton County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has been a small but important local agency working for farmers, land owners and local municipalities.

Responsible for promoting conservation, the SWCD is authorized under state law as the local natural resource management entity. The Clinton County SWCD is overseen by a board of directors made up of local farmers and two members of the County Legislature. While the district is funded locally by the county, conservation projects initiated by the district bring in outside funding that far outweighs the local cost. 

And by addressing natural resource needs locally, the district has the flexibility to meet needs quickly.

In Clinton County, District Manager Nathaniel Grue and Technician Ben Clark deliver technical services and expertise in the implementation of statewide conservation programs to local government, and for both agricultural and rural landowners. The district continues to perform its traditional role as the local natural resources agency; advising farmers, towns and others on issues related to soils, wetlands, ditches and stream-bank stabilization.

Clinton County’s SWCD has been especially active and sought after for technical assistance related to the planning, design and surveying of subsurface drainage systems for agricultural fields. With appropriate design, drainage or “tile” can markedly improve crop yields while at the same time reducing surface water runoff, erosion, compaction and damage to the soil structure.

The Agricultural Environmental Management program is another program offered by all districts in the state. This voluntary, incentive-based program encourages farmers to adopt practices that address the water quality concerns of agricultural activities.

By documenting practices and developing farm plans that address identified concerns, the AEM program helps to manage manure and fertilizer nutrients, protect drinking water and promote the benefits of farmland in the community. By linking local farmers with sources of cost-share funds, the AEM program encourages the adoption of environmentally sound practices which helps our whole community.

The newest addition to the district is a Great Plains “no-till” drill that will soon be available to county landowners to rent. No-till seeding means that a farmer can plant cover crops directly into a field with no additional tillage performed after harvesting the previous crop (usually corn, soybean or small grains).

The benefits to the soil and environment are numerous. By planting a cover crop in the fall, soil erosion from winter winds and spring flooding can be reduced while at the same time increasing soil organic matter and building soil health.

Because the fields do not have to be tilled, there is a sizable savings in fuel, fertilizer and time. Cover crops such as cereal rye, commonly called “winter rye,” can be planted as late as Oct. 15 following corn harvest. Rye is very cold hardy and will germinate and grow at temperatures above 33 degrees F. It rapidly produces a ground cover that holds soil in place against the forces of wind and water. 

Rye’s deep roots help prevent compaction in annually tilled fields and have a positive effect on soil quality. In the spring, it can be plowed under to build soil organic matter or harvested as a crop for additional forage.

Another use for the no-till drill will be for improving hay fields and pastures without the need for tillage. Because pastures are often not suitable for row-crop production due to steep slopes, variable drainage or stoniness, renovation of pastures involving tillage can lead to erosion and a lengthy recovery time before it can be grazed.

Legumes such as alfalfa and clover can be added into pastures in late spring without interrupting the grazing season. By adding legumes to pastures, farmers can increase forage yields, quality and animal performance. Older hayfields can also be inter-seeded and improved by the addition of suitable legumes.

As always, soil fertility testing is recommended before making crop planting decisions.

For more information about the Agricultural Environmental Management program, utilizing the district’s no-till drill or other technical assistance available from your local Soil and Water district, contact the Clinton County office at 561-4616, Ext 3, or in Essex County, 962-8225.

 Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt. 22, Plattsburgh, 12901. Call 561-7450