On-farm event kicks off cutting-edge research on natural climate solutions
U.S. and State politicians and leaders of the New Jersey agricultural and conservation sectors gathered in a soybean field in Somerset County on Friday, May 21st, to learn about a cutting-edge on-farm research project that aims to increase agricultural resilience and sustainability while sequestering more carbon into the soil.
The farmers participating in the project, led by North Jersey RC&D, are trialing innovative spring cover crop management strategies. Cover crops are typically grasses and clovers, seeded in the fall, destined not to be harvested -- but sown for the benefit of soil health. During the winter and early spring, cover crops suppress weeds, prevent soil erosion, and help build and improve soil fertility and quality. Under traditional management, cover crops are killed using herbicide or tillage in the mid-spring, paving the way for corn, soybean, and vegetable crops. But farmers in this study are planting through living green cover crops much later in the spring. By allowing cover crops to grow longer, farms can sequester more carbon, increase soil health, and offer resiliency in the face of severe weather events.
North Jersey RC&D will carefully analyze farmer records, soil characteristics, and crops to determine long-term practice efficacy. This project will quantify the impact of the innovative treatments on soil carbon, cash crop health, and nutrient management dynamics. It will use the insights and experiences of its 25 participants to hone practice implementation guidelines.
The project, funded by a highly competitive USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant-On Farm Trial is unique. Farmers participating in the project are motivated by a desire to improve their soil health and long-term agricultural resilience. Farmers are provided with access to free technical assistance from leading crop consultants and experts, as well as, funds to purchase equipment and supplies, including high-end planter attachments, roller crimpers, and supplies for grazing. In total, North Jersey RC&D will distribute over $640,000 in incentives to 25 farmers.
RJ Fulper, a 4th generation farmer at Fulper Family Farms, described the value of incorporating funding for equipment into the research project: "Making money is hard in farming -- when you have to spend a lot of money on new practices and it doesn't work, it's a double negative. It was so valuable to not to have to make a huge investment [in equipment]."
"The On-Farm Trial fills the need for a program that not only promotes conservation, innovation, and technological advancement but places the tools to do so directly in the hands of our most important asset --- our farmers. With these grants, producers are able to test new conservation practices atop their entire farm and operation with financial and technical support before making the huge decision to adopt them permanently," pointed out Julie Hawkins, New Jersey NRCS State Conservationist.
Senator Booker, a member of the Senate ag committee, said Friday that fixing America’s food system is at the top of his agenda. He took the opportunity to tout the introduction of his Climate Stewardship Act and his commitment to shaping agricultural policy to not only help family farmers but also encourage greater adoption of soil health practices, which are instrumental to creating a sustainable, resilient food system.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take bold, ambitious action and invest in America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities as an important part of the solution to climate change,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “My vision is for the soil health practices that we see being done here on farms in Somerset County, NJ today to be duplicated on tens of millions of acres across our country. I applaud RC&D, USDA, and their partners for helping New Jersey lead the way forward on regenerative agricultural practices.”
Representative Malinowski emphasized the need for more federal funding to support agricultural best management practices. "The work that our family farmers are doing to sequester carbon, to protect the soil, to guard against run-off, and to protect our clean drinking water -- that is a huge part of the solution to climate change," he said.
Secretary Doug Fisher highlighted the richness and diversity of New Jersey's agricultural operations and the importance of soil health, "We have some of the most innovative farmers in the country in the midst of the most populous state in the country. "
Farmers participating in the study shared their history with soil health practices and their excitement about this opportunity to educate the non-farming community about the impacts no-till and cover crops have had on their operation.
Dan Lyness, owner and operator of Spring Run Dairy described the important role cover crops play in recycling nutrients within his diary operation.
"With cover crops and no-till, I spread my manure out on a green cover crop, the crop utilized those nutrients right away, and it goes right down into the soil. In years past you'd spread it on bare dirt and you would have to plow and till that under...then you're prone to erosion and losing not just your soil, but also the valuable nutrients in that manure into streams and lakes." - Dan Lyness, Spring Run Dairy
The event concluded with a roller crimping demonstration. Farmers Steve and Cody Zamek used a massive, water-filled drum, known as a roller-crimper, to mechanically terminate the cover crop by crushing and snapping 4-foot tall cereal rye. Simultaneously, using a no-till drill attached to the rear of the tractor, Zamek planted soybeans using no-till, an agricultural technique for growing crops without disturbing the soil through tillage.
Learn more about the Program https://www.northjerseyrcd.org/on-farm-soil-health-demonstration
View a video recording of the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW1yZJdiZnE
Download a handout summarizing the project: