The health of our agricultural soils in the northeast is often poor resulting in a cascade of undesirable consequences, from increased usage of purchased inputs to off-site pollution and continued loss of soil carbon. Regenerative farmers have demonstrated that soil health and the soil microbial food web that supports it can be restored through the use of innovative practices, from multispecies cover cropping to adaptive grazing as well as no-till.
While a growing number of farmers, researchers and agricultural service providers in our region are becoming more interested in improving soil health, adoption of soil health-restoring practices has been impeded by economic and logistical constraints, including insufficient technical support and a lack of farmer innovators demonstrating a full suite of soil-regenerating practices.
Our project will engage Allen Williams, PhD, founding partner of the Soil Health Academy and principal investigator of the Pasture Project, to assist three area farmer demonstrators in implementing regenerative agriculture practices on their farms. The host farmers will retrofit equipment and interseed a diverse cover crop mix into V4/V5 leaf stage of a corn silage crop. Following harvest, they will adaptively graze a portion of the cover crop. These farmers will learn to monitor functional indicators of soil health. Soil samples will also be analyzed annually to facilitate comparison over time. Field days at host farms will demonstrate and demystify these soil health practices. Interviews with the host farmers and a survey of field day participants will assess knowledge gained and plans to adopt demonstrated practices
Project objectives from proposal:
This project seeks to demonstrate that farmers can markedly improve soil health in silage cornfields using interseeded, multi-species cover crop mixes alone and with the addition of adaptive grazing. Farmers will learn to monitor soil health indicators for changes in functionality over time, using a water infiltration test and slake test for aggregate stability.
Our goal is to provide technical support to innovative farmer-leaders who will demonstrate successful regenerative practices on their farms and inspire increased adoption of a full suite of soil health practices in our farming community using on-farm, farmer-to-farmer demonstrations.
Participating in the project will result in increased use of multi-species, interseeded cover crops in corn plantings. Soil health improvements will be measured through annual soil tests and on-farm monitoring. Information will be shared with other farmers and agricultural educators and service providers through field days. Demonstrated successful practices will be adopted by other farmers in the area.
Farmers using these soil health practices reduce their inputs of fertilizers and pesticides while increasing their farm’s resilience to the extremes of precipitation.