Our first featured pollinator for Stewardship Week is
the Mexican long-nosed bat.
Please click HERE to view today's creature feature video by Friends University student Sarah Yokley.
65 years ago, the National Association of Conservation Districts began a nation-wide initiative to encourage Americans to focus on stewardship. Stewardship Week is officially celebrated from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in May. It is one of the world’s largest conservation-related observances.
The 2020 Stewardship Week theme is "Where would we BEE without pollinators?" A team of five conservation biology students from Friends University were collaborating with the Conservation District to host a panel discussion and kids' activities to celebrate pollinators; however, the event was converted to a stay-at-home format due to the current pandemic.
Over the next week, we will be posting interviews and daily Creature Features created by the students. The Creature Features will highlight different pollinators, the plants they pollinate, and things we can do to promote their survival. We will also include kid-friendly activities related to each pollinator.
Happy Stewardship Week!
Each year, the Sedgwick County Conservation District administers cost-share funds provided by the Kansas Department of Agriculture through appropriation from the Kansas Water Plan Fund. Funding helps landowners in this county implement conservation practices that benefit all of us by providing cleaner water, more productive crop and grazing lands, and improved wildlife habitat.
Beginning July 1, 2019, the Sedgwick County Conservation District received allocations for two programs: $19,697.00 for the Water Resources Cost-Share Program (WR) and $13,290.00 for the Non-Point Source Pollution Control Program (NPS). All funding received through these programs goes directly to area landowners. None of this funding is used for Conservation District administrative expenses.
Since July, $13,452.24 in WR funding has been placed under contract with area landowners. This leaves $6,244.76 available for additional projects. Conservation practices implemented under this program include gradient terraces, grassed waterways, and grade stabilization structures.
$12,000 in NPS funding is under contract, leaving $1,290 for additional applications. NPS funding helps landowners replace failing septic systems and plug abandoned wells. These projects protect groundwater quality.
Please contact the Conservation District to apply for cost-share funding from the WR or NPS programs. Any cost-share money not under contract by November 30, 2019 will be cancelled. These are “use it or lose it” programs!
Yesterday I visited Jacob Farms & Cattle and met with Ryan Speer, one of the co-owners of the Farm and a National Association of Conservation Districts Soil Health Champion. Speer is known for successfully implementing no-till and cover crop practices. He commented that ten years ago cover crops were rare in this area; however, now they are much more popular. For example, planting rye as a cover before soybeans has become a common practice. Speer’s goal is to maintain a living root in the soil 365 days a year. This supports soil biology and helps retain moisture.
As we toured some of Speer’s fields, the benefit of the water retention was visible – his dryland crops were not as stressed as crops in nearby fields that had been tilled and not cover cropped. Speer explained that because his soils are holding water, his crops have a bigger window of time to capture rain. Could they eventually succumb to heat and drought stress? Yes, but not as quickly as crops that do not have the benefit of standing residue and covers in the system.
I asked Speer about the impact of rainfall quantity on cover crops. He stated that rainfall dictates which covers to use. In areas with lower rainfall, it is important to utilize covers to capture what little water is received – to take advantage of it. One would use a seed mix that requires minimal water in these settings.
An additional aspect of Speer’s system is to incorporate grazing of cover crops. He has been doing this for the last five years and now offers custom grazing – grazing for other livestock owners’ cattle. Speer uses four to ten species in his cover crop mixes, depending on the grazing plan.
“So how do you know that what you are doing is working?” I asked. Speer replied that he has observed a significant increase in water infiltration rates. Organic matter is improving slowly, roughly 0.1 to 0.2% per year. In the last 10 years, Speer has seen a total increase of organic matter of 1.5%. He estimates that weed control is 60-70% better with utilization of cover crops, thus requiring fewer chemical inputs. This leads to financial savings.
Speer advised that practices such as no-till and cover crops should be regarded as part of an overall system. Farmers who switch to no-till and cover crops may have to wait five years to see economic benefits. Tillage comes at a cost when you factor in labor, depreciation of equipment, and fuel cost. Similarly, without cover crops, the input costs can be higher – for weed control and fertilizer. In the Jacob Farms system a cover crop that includes legumes decreases the need for nitrogen application the following year. Speer summarized the benefits of his system this way, “we are growing way more crop with less chemicals and fertilizer than previously.”
Thank you to everyone who joined the Sedgwick County Conservation District and the Friends University Conservation Science Program for our viewing of the documentary Living Soil last night. Below are a couple of screenshots from the end of the film. In the discussion afterwards, there were questions asked about the prevalence of cover crops in Kansas or, more specifically, Sedgwick County.
I sought answers in the recent report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. It contains 2017 data broken down by county.
I found that in 2017 there were 1360 farms in Sedgwick County:
The total amount of harvested cropland was 378,142 acres in this county in 2017 including:
Celebrate Stewardship Week with us!
Sedgwick County Conservation District and the new Conservation Science program at Friends University are partnering to host a free viewing of the documentary Living Soil. When asked who should come and see the film, I began listing those you might expect: farmers, Biology/Ecology/Geology students, specialty crop producers, FFA students, 4-H groups, and Master Gardeners. Then I realized, "This matters to everyone! We all eat and soil is key to producing food." According to the Soil Health Institute "Our soils support 95 percent of all food production, and by 2060, our soils will be asked to give us as much food as we have consumed in the last 500 years."
If that is not compelling enough, consider that soil...
Living Soil was directed by Chelsea Myers of Tiny Attic Productions, and produced by the Soil Health Institute through the generous support of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.
The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) created the Soil Health Champions Network to bring together farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners. Soil Health Champions work with local NRCS and Conservation district staff to educate others about soil health and conservation practices. Specifically, Soil Health Champs have two key responsibilities:
"Our goal is to have a living root in the soil as many days of the year as possible on every acre. Some fields it is 365 days a year or very close. This includes cash crops and cover crops that are planted in between all cash crops. We also do custom grazing on some of these covers in the winter with cow calf operations in the area. We use multispecies winter cover crops but rely heavily on cereal rye for its many good qualities.
Our goal is to provide a fair return to our landowners and improve soil conditions to a state better than we started farming it. This in turn will provide the farm a stable income stream for future generations."
I first encountered the book Lentil Underground: Renegade farmers and the future of food in America when I attended Prairie Festival at the Land Institute last fall. I wondered who the folks were wearing the mysterious Lentil Underground ball caps. Then I saw the book in the bookstore and began to understand. Five months later I finally checked Liz Carlisle's book out from the library.
I began reading the book and could not put it down. About halfway through, I was compelled to get up from my glider and go order some lentils from the Timeless Seeds website. I had to experience the famed Black Belugas myself! I was intrigued by the way a small group of farmers in Montana found a way to regenerate their soil and minimize inputs. Why lentils? They are not only drought-tolerant, but also fix nitrogen in the soil. I began dreaming about all the places I might plant lentils in my neighborhood.
One of my favorite stories recounted by Carlisle was of a Montana farmer who had a beautiful field of pollinator-filled volunteer buckwheat waving above a crop of specialty chickpeas. The chickpeas were in turn holding water for and protecting the lowest crop, lentils! The lentils were fixing nitrogen in the soil AND discouraging deer and squirrels from decimating the chickpeas. The triple intercrop arrangement functioned like the traditional "three sisters" combination of corn, beans, and squash all working together.
Another highlight of the Lentil Underground story was how its success depended on neighbors sharing equipment, land, experiences, and time with each other. Farmers learned from each other and journeyed together as they experimented with new crops and new methods of cultivating them.
I recommend this book and the Black Beluga lentils!
Yesterday we hosted our 2019 Local Work Group session at the Sedgwick County Extension Education Center. The following LWG description is taken from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) website:
"Local working groups provide recommendations on local natural resource priorities and criteria for USDA conservation activities and programs. Convened by the local conservation district, the local working group responsibilities include:
The LWG is a key venue for conservation stakeholders to have their voices heard. Yesterday it was powerful to have representatives from NRCS, conservation districts, Farm Service Agency (FSA), Extension, and area farms gather together to discuss local conservation concerns. We explored practical solutions to obstacles facing producers as they seek to implement conservation practices on their land.
When I first heard about the vacant position of District Manager at the Sedgwick County Conservation District (SCCD), I had to inquire, "What is a conservation district? What do they do?" If you have the same questions, check out this Past present and future of conservation districts video clip from the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD).