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Soil Health Field Days Across Northeast Train Farmers in Organic Tillage Reduction Methods

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2019 July Issue Newsletter

By Caro Roszell

Farm Manager Steve Munno explains his BCS-mounted implements for tillage-reduced farming

Last month, CT NOFA held the first in a series of Soil Health Field Days to be held during the growing season of 2019 by NOFA Chapters across the Northeast. These on-farm events feature farmers who are innovating in organic approaches to increasing soil health and fertility.

Steve Munno, Farm Manager at Massaro Farm and Board member of CT NOFA, led participants on a tour of the farm, providing detailed descriptions of his cover cropping experiments and challenges. He also discussed and showed off his fields where he is trialing the use of silage tarps as a stale-seed bedding method and showed each piece of equipment used in his reduced-till fields, and explained the rationale behind a switch from plastic to the many-times-more expensive Weed Guard Plus for his tractor-mounted mulch layer.

Steve Munno is a part of the 9-farmer Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) cohort, a three-year NRCS-funded education program to track data around tillage reduction on organic farms and develop innovations in methodologies at multiple scales.

The farm tour was proceeded by a talk, Cover Crop Strategies for No-Till Systems by Julie Fine, a regional sales representative for Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and previously a graduate student at UMass researching cover crops and soil health. She had some very interesting takeaways, including the fact that a very thin webbing of winter-killed cover crop residue remaining on the soil in spring (even if bare soil is clearly visible through that layer) still significantly reduces soil erosion.  She also showed a comparison of the release of nitrogen from various cover crop mixes mapped with crop peak demand (sweet corn) that showed that cover crop diversity increased total soil nitrate and that more diverse cover crop mixes resulted in peak nitrate levels that more closely met peak crop demand. She also discussed various no-till termination methods.

After the tour, Monique Bosch and Justin Harwyn of Wiggle Room gave a soil microscopy presentation, projecting videos of different soils under various magnifications and pointing out soil health indicators like microaggregates, fungal hyphae and bacterial diversity. They also showed examples of the soils from Massaro Farm. 

NOFA-NJ also held a Soil Health Field Day at North Slope Farm on June 22, hosted by organic farmer Mike Rassweiler, whose tillage-reduced strategies include permanent raised beds on part of the farm for high-rotation crops and ‘favorable furrows’ (approximately 6” trenches ripped in cover crops and filled with compost) more low-rotation crops. This event featured a second no-till farmer, Robert Fulper and Dr. Yichao Rui, a soil health specialist from Rodale Institute. This workshop attracted 64 participants!

This month, Doug Wolcik of Gaining Ground Farm in Concord, MA will kick off the Massachusetts Soil Health Field Days with an interactive field tour exploring what systems he has instituted to drastically increase production on his 3-acre farm. He will be joined by Daniel Mays of Frith Farm, an innovative commercial no-till farm in Maine. The farmers will offer comments, observations, and demonstrations of equipment and methods of cover crop termination, mulching, and planting in a reduced-till context. During lunch, the organizers will facilitate a farmer-to-farmer roundtable. Topics covered will include participants’ experiences of soil health practices and what kinds of education and incentive programs would help make the transition. Farmer comments in this roundtable discussion will help inform a policy document to educate legislators and will shape NOFA policy work.

To register, visit https://www.nofamass.org/events/soil-health-field-day-gaining-ground-farm-planting-methods-small-scale-no-till-farming. Suggested registration fee is $15 for NOFA Members for this 5-hour event ($20 non-members) but we have full scholarships available to all NOFA members—just fill out this short form.

Save the date:

September 1st- for Farming for Maximum Photosynthesis at Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, MA with farmer Julie Rawson.  She and her husband Jack Kittredge have built their farm to maximize fertility, diversity of crops and people to work on it.

September 30th—for another on-farm Field Day at Red Shirt Farm in Lanesboro, MA. Jim Schultz will focus his farm tour on a BCS mounted no-till approach including a flail mower, mini baler and roller crimper for effectively managing cover crops and producing all the farms’ mulch needs onsite.

Soil Health events in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York this season include:

NOFA-VT –September 17 3pm-6pm

Exploring Practices & Policies for Improving Soil Health:

Visit a highly diversified, grass-based livestock farm in Brattleboro and learn about techniques for improving soil health and pasture productivity. Some of the strategies discussed will include frost seeded perennials, interseeded annual cover crops, poultry tractors, and intensive rotational grazing. Stick around after the technical portion of the workshop for pizza from NOFA-VT’s mobile pizza oven and a discussion of how changes in policy and other tools can help to expand the use of good soil health practices on Vermont’s farms. With Ashlyn & Abraham McClurg of Rebop Farm. RSVP: nofavt.org/events/exploring-practices-policies-improving-soil-health-series-brattleboro

NOFA-NH –October 5th, 2-5 pm

Farm Tour at Kearsarge Gorge Farm: Tour an off-grid sustainable farm and participate in a lively discussion of soil health and conservation.Registration: https://www.nofanh.org/craft

NOFA-NY—October 21 9am-12pm

Building your Farm Team to Build Healthier Soil: This field day will focus on the practice and intersection of farm team communication strategies and building healthy soil. Participants will both witness and try communication and feedback tools (Real Talk and Courageous Conversations) and learn about Food Justice Certification. A tour of the farm will highlight the regenerative soil farming practices that have transformed rocky and depleted soil into a thriving weekly vegetable fruit and eggs CSA to 100+ families in Albany and Troy. Following the tour, participants will be invited to engage in a round table discussion of soil building practices. With Soul Fire Farm team, Liz Henderson & Louis Battalen. More info & registration: www.nofany.org/our-events/2019-on-farm-field-days

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