Focusing on Soil Health in Ohio - American Farmland Trust

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What does dairy farming mean to you? To a younger me, it meant a long drive down dirt roads through rural Illinois to my great uncles’ dairy farm. We would arrive to find rows of little dome houses with calves that came out to suck on your fingers through the fence or a newborn calf, just hours after it was born. As an adult, I often reflect on those magical moments, but now I think about dairy as a staple in our food pyramid and a large part of US agriculture. As I step into my new role as AFT’s Ohio Conservation Technician, I also realize more than ever how important Ohio soil health is in supporting our dairy farms.

Julie Platz as a child on the farm

Now what does soil health have to do with a dairy farm? Soil health is an important component of agriculture, not only for its environmental benefits, but also the various benefits it provides to the farmer. And for a non-grazing dairy operation—it means everything to have healthy, productive soil. Especially since many large dairy farms in Ohio are not able to graze their cows, and rely heavily on grain farmers and the feed they produce. Livestock feed is integral to dairy operations and therefore soil health must be integral to dairy operations as well. Reducing the amount of fertilizer used or the number of tractor passes needed on a field can help farmers cut expenses. Additionally, planting cover crops can provide weed suppression and water management while building organic matter and an all-around healthy ecosystem.

For dairy farms, a large portion of their sustainability relies on the feed they purchase from grain farmers. Grains grown as a product of a soil health focused management system may soon be the preferred method for dairy feed sources. Certain dairies, such as Danone North America, have chosen to target the feed-shed as a part of the entire supply chain when considering their own soil health and sustainability initiatives.

AFT is partnering with Sustainable Environmental Consultants, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NRCS, and Danone North America in a new project titled “Soil Health for Dairy Suppliers” to help crop farmers in seven Western Ohio counties (Mercer, Paulding, Van Wert, Hardin, Logan, Allen, Auglaize) supplying grain to area dairies. AFT will conduct one-on-one farmer engagement, benchmarking of farm practices, development of continuous improvement plans, and implementation of improved soil health management practices. A feed-shed analysis will be conducted to identify where priority farmers are located in the project area.

Targeting Conservation Practices from OSU Extension AgBMPs
Individually targeted conservation implementation workflow, depicting steps AFT and others can take to select proper best management practices.

Specifically, our team will assist farmers in designing a plan to adopt conservation cropping systems to rebuild soil health while maintaining or increasing profitability for the farmer. Through an assessment with Sustainable Environmental Consultants, farmers will have the opportunity to receive a continuous improvement plan focusing on cover crop, conservation tillage, sustainable crop rotation, nutrient management, field buffers, and controlled drainage water management.

Farming is imperative to the US economy and food supply. By supporting the implementation of best management practices, we are elongating the lives and relationships of dairy and grain farms. I look forward to helping farmers in Ohio establish soil health goals that benefit the longevity of their farms, so that their children and grandchildren may have the same eye-opening and awe-inspiring experiences that I was so lucky to have.

About the Author
Julie Platz-Vredenburgh

Agriculture Conservation Innovations Program Manager

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