Protecting Our Fields
If you ask a farmer how this growing season has been, odds are his or her answer will have something to do with water. Wet, rainy, muddy, humid, waterlogged…it was certainly a season of difficult weather. The unpredictability of nature might be the most challenging aspect of farming, and our region received about 64 inches of precipitation this season (that’s about 20 inches more than the annual average)! In order to lessen the damage done to our fields during difficult conditions, we rely on a number of farming strategies that include cover-cropping, maintaining berms to direct the flow of water, staying out of the field when necessary to prevent compaction, and relying on the rain for irrigation.
Perhaps the most significant of these strategies is cover-cropping, which is the practice of planting specific crops to protect and improve a field while it is not being used for production. Different types of cover crops benefit the soil in different ways, and each one is used by farmers to perform a specific job. These crops return valuable nutrients to the soil, increase beneficial microbial activity, allow for better crop rotations, and improve soil structure by breaking up compaction and adding organic matter into the earth.
Additionally, cover crops help us manage soil erosion, prevent runoff, and protect water quality – three very important tasks in a year with over 60 inches of precipitation. If a farm is left uncovered, heavy precipitation could carry away valuable topsoil and cut swales, or valleys, throughout the fields. In a cover-cropped field, however, plant roots and vegetation bind the earth together to prevent such losses. An increase in organic matter also allows the soil to absorb and hold on to more moisture, acting like a sponge and preventing pollutants, chemicals, and free nitrogen from being carried into waterways.
Soon after our fields were harvested and finished for the season, our farmers were on their tractors to seed cover and set the fields to rest. Most farms plant a variety of cover crops, including legumes (such as peas and clover), cereals (such as rye and oats), brassicas (such as turnips and mustard greens), and grasses. This year we seeded rye, triticale (a wheat and rye blend), and tillage radishes.