No till, no problem for farmers Ontario County

The adage, “Everything old is new again,” comes to mind for Donn Branton, who runs a family farm in Genesee County.

Branton joined farmers from across the region recently at a soil health workshop in Ontario County featuring experts from Cornell University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and like-minded organizations. Branton is an expert in his own right, based on decades of crop farming and connecting producers with resources as president of Western New York Soil Health Alliance.

Much of what is now proving healthy for farming, soil and the environment is like “turning back the clock,” he said.

“We used to farm for existence and it got turned into profitability,” said Branton, who talked with other farmers and shared information at the March 7 workshop at King’s Catering in Hopewell. Before a display charting Cornell soil health test results, Branton talked about the wisdom of a man considered one of the first true conservationists — Edward Faulkner, whose revolutionary book “Plowman’s Folly” in 1943 promoted a healthier and more productive way to plant crops. Called “no-till” farming, it’s a practice of planting crops without tilling the soil.

That “no-till” way of farming was a central topic at the workshop. Keynote speaker Jim Hershey, a Pennsylvania farmer, manages his crop and livestock operation in a no-till/cover crop environment.

Cover crops are specific plants grown primarily for the benefit of the soil rather than the crop yield. Cover crops are commonly used to suppress weeds and manage soil erosion. They are typically grasses, legumes and other green plants that help build, improve and sustain soil quality. Cover crops also control pests and diseases.

A no-till method and planting cover crops are especially helpful ways farmers can battle extreme weather, said Tucker Kautz, water resources technician with the Ontario County Soil and Water Conservation District. He said these methods help maintain healthy soil despite spells of extremely dry or extremely wet weather.

Farmers talked about other ways, too, they find are working well in light of extreme weather.

Mark Greene, owner of Hopkins Farms in Pittsford, said he recently put in a water retention basin at his farm on Clover Street. This basin collects water upland and conveys it underground without disrupting the soil. Greene said this will be the first spring to put the basin to the test. “It should be good,” he said.

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