Soil health management outreach using mechanical aeration

Project Overview

ONE16-267
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $11,200.00
Projected End Date: 04/15/2018
Grant Recipient: Merrimack County Conservation District
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Stacy Luke
Merrimack County Conservation District

Annual Reports

Information Products

Aeration Fact Sheet (Fact Sheet)
Soils & Aeration (Fact Sheet)

Commodities

  • Agronomic: rye, grass (misc. perennial), hay

Practices

  • Animal Production: pasture fertility, pasture renovation, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, organic matter, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Starting in 2011, the Merrimack County Conservation District(MCCD)has worked with state-wide entities and Dr. Bianca Moebius-Clune in developing innovative conservation plans for soil health. Several producers received soil health plans to improve soil health. Many of these plans suggested the use of mechanical aeration to reduce soil compaction, but access to a mechanical aerator to rent was limited to one in the Seacoast area and many agricultural producers did not have the necessary farm insurance to rent the equipment. Many of these producers also spread manure in the spring. The idea of using a mechanical aerator while spreading liquid or semi-solid manure is an idea that many producers would be interested in trying and possibly adopting for the future pending results. As part of a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant, MCCD will be purchasing a mechanical aerator to alleviate soil compaction and to improve injection of semi-solid and liquid manure. But, many farmers need assistance in properly using the equipment, education in soil health, soil compaction, and manure injection, and access to equipment that will allow for the equipment to use. This grant will assist in the labor portion of this project for on-the-field training on how to improve soil health, soil testing to compare pre- and post- aeration results, and education to interested farmers. Outreach will include workshops and one-on-one assistance with the equipment for best implementation.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project builds on MCCD and Greenstart’s project to created Soil Health Conservation Activity Plans to assist producers in achieving better soil health. A common feature in most of the reports was alleviating soil compaction using mechanical aeration. Those who want to improve soil health but cannot afford to buy equipment would benefit from this project and fully achieve the purported results from their soil health conservation activity plans. MCCD will work with Strafford County Conservation District and GreenStart to learn from their successes and challenges in using their Aerways on farms. MCCD will also utilize the research already conducted by local entities on this subject that will help create a program that will be used by farmers for continued conservation value. This research includes Northeast SARE research such as “Evaluating the on-farm environmental and economic impacts of the use of aerators with liquid and semi-solid manure under various management conditions” as researched by the Poultney Mettowee Conservation District in Vermont. MCCD will continue to work with mechanical aerator manufacturers to assist with educational programming.

    The work plan to achieve these objectives are as follows:

    i. Purchase of mechanical aerator with the ability for manure injection. This mechanical aerator may have an additional attachment for no till seeding, but its primary purpose will be for soil compaction alleviation.

    ii. In order to get farmers interested in the project, outreach in the form of letters, press releases, and newsletter articles to NH agricultural producers with hay and pasture land.

    iii. Identification of four agricultural producers to demonstrate manure injection using the mechanical aerator along with an assessment of their soil health pre- and post- treatment. This assessment will involve: 1. Cornell Soil Health Assessments and Penetrometer readings each year of the project that will assess the soil health conditions in pre and post treatment for each plot at each demonstration farm. 2. Assessments of the quantity and quality of forage from each plot for each year of the project.

    iv. New Technology & Innovative Approach Fact Sheet with applicable NRCS practice standards that will be used for outreach events and available on the MCCD website.

    v. Continued outreach including a workshop on the use of the equipment, press releases, newsletter articles, and one-on-one technical assistance using a team approach to assist farmers in successful use of the equipment and successful injection of the liquid or semi-solid manure.

    vi. Program evaluation through surveys, interviews, and a review of the results with the team: initial farmers, NRCS, UNH Cooperative Extension, and MCCD. 

    vii. Final report.

    PROJECT TIMETABLE

    Late Winter/ Early Spring 2016-

    a) Purchase mechanical aerator, such as the Awerway, for use by agricultural producers.  Involvement: MCCD staff and supervisors, GreenStart, NRCS, Roy Glines (Consultant), farmers.

    b) Initial outreach to producers through letters press releases, and newsletter articles.  Involvement: MCCD & project partners.

    c) Selection of four demonstration farms in Merrimack County that will demonstrate the aerway and manure injection in the spring.  Involvement: MCCD and project partners at NRCS and UNH Cooperative Extension.

    Spring 2016-

    a) Cornell Soil Health testing, penetrometer readings, and survey of past field productivity for each demonstration farm.  Involvement: MCCD and project partners at NRCS and UNH Cooperative Extension.

    b. Initial outreach workshop- Demonstrating mechanical aeration and liquid manure injection on producer farm.  Involvement: MCCD, UNH Cooperative Extension, NRCS, agricultural producers.

    Summer/ Fall 2016- 

    a. Continued one-on-one outreach with producers wishing to use aerator.

    Winter 2016-2017- Evaluation of program, program promotion through letters to producers, and refinement to rental program.  Involvement: MCCD Board & Staff; partner farmers; NRCS; UNH Cooperative Extension.

    Early Spring 2017- Final outreach, newsletter articles, and final report.  Involvement: MCCD

    DISSEMINATION OF PROJECT RESULTS

    Benefits and results expected include: improved soil health on hay and pasture lands in Merrimack County with some benefits in other parts of NH; increased nutrient uptake by soils via manure injection, reduced sedimentation and nutrients entering the important Merrimack River watershed, the availability of equipment rentals from the conservation districts that aligns with the priorities of Merrimack County, improved soil health based on Cornell Soil Health Assessments and penetrometer readings, and increased productivity in fields.

    Transfer-ability to agricultural producers and other area agricultural organizations has already been shown.  this project aims to transfer in many ways work that is occurring in Cheshire and Strafford Counties, NH, with mechanical aeration.  Agricultural producers in Merrimack County have expressed an interest in this.  but, this will also transfer the work that Poultney Mettowee Conservation District in Vermont is doing with mechanical aeration and manure injection.  As more producers incorporated these practices and more outreach occurs in terms of soil health and nutrient management, the information will inevitably transfer and become adopted on a larger scale.  It is the goal of this project to have equipment available but also encourage producers to purchase their own equipment, if they deem it important enough for their needs.

    These results will be communicated through workshops, press releases, newsletter articles, presentations and farming conferences, if invited, and letters to farmers identified as possibly benefiting from this equipment.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.