Conservation Tillage

Conservation tillage is defined as having at least 30% ground cover after planting and is also known as crop residue management.  These practices improve soil quality, water quality, air quality and on-farm productivity while reducing expenses.  One type of conservation tillage (no-till) can reduce erosion by 90% and conserve 2-4″ of soil moisture for dryer periods.  In addition, surface residue causes organisms to remain active for longer periods contributing to soil humus formation.

Widely adopted throughout most of the United States, today’s technologically advanced equipment and crop protection products make conservation tillage a practical option for most climates and soil types.  Growers save time, fuel, and equipment costs while maintaining and/or increasing yields and profits.  Over several years, fewer tillage trips improve soil quality through increased organic matter, earthworm and other biological activity.

Conservation tillage also improves water quality by reducing the movement of soil and associated potential pollutants, like phosphorus and crop protection products to surface water.  Excess phosphorus in fresh water often results in abundant algal growth.  It also increases microbial activity throughout which speeds the breakdown of crop protection products.

Crop Nutrient Management

The 4R method-Right amount, right time, right place, right source.

Crop nutrient management is defined as increasing nutrient efficiency to maximize economic return while maintaining or improving the environment.  To increase nutrient efficiency, growers apply plant nutrients at the right time and place to achieve their estimate yield.  This approach helps reduce potential pollution of surface and ground water.  All sources of plant nutrients; manure, fertilizers, previous crops, irrigation, tailwater, etc. are included in the budget.  Specific management practices include soil testing, split applications, side dressing, nitrogen stabilizers, manure testing, application calibration, variable rate technologies and livestock/poultry feed rations. 

The basic components of a crop nutrient budget and the resulting management plan are: Field map, soil test, crop sequence, estimated yield, sources and forms, sensitive areas, recommended timing, recommended rate, recommended methods and annual review and updates. 

Weed and Pest Management

Weed and pest management is a comprehensive approach to controlling these and other yield-robbing pests.  It often involves the use of various management practices that either prevent or reduce economically harmful weed, insect, disease and other pest populations.  In other situations, management practices are used to reduce”populations” to an economically tolerable level.  In all situations, it helps to maintain or improve a quality environment.

Specific practices include scouting fields, rotating crops, encouraging beneficial insects and when necessary, utilizing crop protection products.  When crop protection products are used, application rates and methods are based on threshold populations, safety to non-target organisms, soil types, sensitivity and a variety of other site-specific factors.

Conservation Buffers

Conservation buffers are strategically planted grasses, trees, and other ground cover.
When planned and implemented to match the site, they reduce the impact of runoff from adjacent fields.  

Buffers can reduce up to 80% of sediment and 40% of phosphorous (on average) from reaching surface water by trapping it in the vegetation.
Significant amounts of nitrate can be removed from the system by the root structure and stored in the plant material.
Buffers also can reduce wind borne pollutants.

Several years of cost analysis show areas suitable for buffers are often the least profitable areas in the field.  In fact, the continuous buffer sign-up for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) can turn unprofitable acres into a profitable situation.

Buffers can also:

Trap any escapes of crop protection products on the surface and in the root zone to allow natural decomposition processes to occur
Allow plants in the buffer zone to use potential pollutants as nutrients
Reduce wind and water erosionIncrease infiltration and reduce runoff
Increase fish and wildlife habitat
Trap snow to increase moisture available to crops
Add aesthetics to the landscape both visually and in terms of plant and animal populations

Composting

Composting is an aerobic (oxygen requiring) process in which microorganisms break down complex organic components of animal waste and bedding (e.g. straw, sawdust) into simple organic soil-like material.

For relatively inexpensive composting:

  • Use a composting bin on a level impervious surface
  • Stack all materials to be composted in one bin until full
  • Allow heap to go through a composing cycle

An ideal composting system may take eight to twelve weeks to complete, and then progresses to a curing period which
typically lasts for another four weeks.

Organic materials to be composted must have the appropriate carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio that supports growth and activity
of the microorganisms that carry out composting.

Typical compost piles from horse operations consist of manure and bedding materials and have a high C:N ratio. This combination composts well by itself, especially if the bedding material is straw. If bedding material is sawdust, it may take a longer time to compost. The composting process can be improved if materials with higher nitrogen content, such as grass clippings or urea, are added as needed to the pile.

Oxygen is needed by microorganisms during respiration while breaking down the materials. Aerobic composting requires a lot of oxygen, particularly at the initial stage. A tremendous amount of energy in the form of heat is given off, creating an ideal environment for the microorganisms. They operate best in temperatures between 110F and 150F. At 140 F or higher, pathogens, weed seeds, and fly larvae in the composting materials are destroyed. However, at temperatures above 160 F, the microorganisms will die. Therefore, it is essential to regulate the oxygen and temperature levels by regularly turning the compost pile, about three times a month. Monitor the temperature for best results.

Moisture is necessary to permit biological activities and the supporting chemicals process. Moisture should be about 50 percent of the content. Estimate the moisture content by squeezing a handful of composted material. It should feel like a damp sponge after the water has been wrung out. Moisture is continuously lost due to the high temperature. Therefore, regularly wet the materials without waterlogging them.

Benefits of Composting:

  • Reduces environmental and health risks (reduces parasite infestation, reduces potential breeding sites for flies, and reduces the amount of raw
  • manure-polluted runoff reaching surface and groundwater)
  • Can reduce the volume of manure to manage, as well as odor problems
  • Provides a soil amendment that enhances soil tilth and fertility
  • Support pollinator functions

Ohio Agricultural Pollution Abatement Program

The District serves as the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s local agency to respond to complaints concerning livestock animal waste, cropland, erosion and sediment and Ohio Department of Natural resources local agency to complaints concerning  silvacultural erosion during logging activities. We function as on site evaluations – is there a problem, are best management practices utilized if not we begin the corrective process with the landowner or operator.

livestock stewardship brochure

Manure Management/Storage

A structure that protects water bodies from manure runoff by storing manure until conditions are suitable for field application or proper removal.

Download NRCS-Ohio Manure Management Standards:
nrcs manure management
water utilization

or contact the SWCD Office at 330-722-9317 for further information.

Other Best Management Practices

GRASSED WATERWAY
Shaping the ground and establishing grass in a natural drainageway to prevent or repair gullies.

STREAM PROTECTION
Protecting a stream by excluding livestock and by establishing buffer zones of vegetation to filter runoff.

WETLAND ENHANCEMENT
Installing practices to manage water levels to improve habitat or restore wetlands.

WILDLIFE HABITAT MANAGEMENT
Creating or improving food and cover for upland, wetland wildlife and pollinators.

PLANNED GRAZING SYSTEM
Planting and designing grazing rotations to optimize production, reduce sediment and nutrient runoff.

HIGH TUNNELS
Used to extend growing seasons in spring and fall.

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