Lancaster farming. (Lancaster, Pa., etc.) 1955-current, May 26, 1984, Image 31

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    Strawberries, erosion & cleaning up the Bay
years ago, John Nicolai decided
he’d have to grow something
different if he was going to make a
go of his parent’s 90-acre Howard
County farm. With the price of
com and wheat going down and the
cost of everything else going up, he
decided to expand his pick-your
own strawberry operation.
Making the switch wasn’t as
simple as it sounds. Strawberries
are a higher value crop, but they
are also more labor intensive. It
meant changing marketing
strategies, advertising, and
dealing with the public. It also
meant exposing more land to soil
erosion and using more chemicals.
“With strawberries, about two
thirds of the soil is open to erosion.
There’s no way with these steep
slopes that I could have had all
strawberries without a way to
control erosion,” Nicolai said.
The prospect of losing valuable
topsoil and chemicals in runoff
during rainstorms wasn’t his only
concern. A former agricultural
Extension agent and dairy science
professor, Nicolai was well aware
of the potential for causing non
point pollution.
Nonpoint pollutants are con
taminants carried in runoff. They
include sediment, fertilizers and
pesticides from farmland. Fer
tilizers from yards and oil deicers
from highways and parking lots
are also factors. Nonpoint pollution
is hard to see and even harder to
control. So why worry about it?
Nonpoint pollution has been
identified as one of the causes in
the decline of plant and animal life
in the Chesapeake Bay. According
to a study by the Environmental
Protection Agency, overenrich
ment from excess nutrients has
spawned algae blooms, which in
turn deplete the oxygen supply in
the Bay.
“Nonpoint sources are blamed
for the majority of nitrogen en
tering the Bay, and cropland is the
biggest contributor,” explains
William Magette, an agricultural
engineer at The University of
Maryland. “Most of the
phosphorus delivered to the Bay is
coming from point (end-of-pipe)
sources. However, most of the
phosphorus, that make its way to
the Bay from nonpoint sources,
comes from cropland attached to
soil particles.”
Thanks to good planning, Nicolai
doesn’t have to worry about
polluting. One of the first things he
did before expanding his
strawberry business was to call on
help from his local soil con
For a big planting job with a small tractor
Hook up
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planting jobs
Tye s 10 No Till Drill is equipped with the
same performance proven planting system
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2. Internally fluted seeders 3. Front seed
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A . .>• vs -■ .v.^s v ,s -* V ' < s s \
servation district.
“I had the soil conservation
people out and told them what I
was going to do. The first thing we
did was develop a farm con
servation plan,” Nicolai said.
His conservation plan consisted
of a set of diversions and grass
waterways to intercept runoff and
channel it to a series of ponds. The
ponds trap chemicals and
sediment and also act as a water
supply for irrigation. Nicolai plans
to plant grass strips along each
side of the stream that flows
through his property. “We use a lot
of chemicals on these
strawberries. These grass strips
are a precaution in case we get a
gully washer. They’ll filter the
runoff before it reaches the
He is gradually realigning his
fields so that the rows go across the
slope instead of up and down. This
will help create small check dams
to break the force of the runoff and
allow more absorption into the soil.
According to Jack Helm, Soil
Conservation Service district
conservationist, the conservation
practices that Nicolai installed
have cut erosion rates on his farm
in half. “Erosion is now within
tolerable limits,” says Helm. “If
he hadn’t used these practices, he
would have easily been losing four
to five times to tolerable amount.”
Nicolai is just one of many
farmers who voluntarily practice
conservation. According to SCS,
about 800,000 acres of the state’s
cropland is adequately protected
against erosion. What about the
‘ ‘Some farmers don’t understand
the problem," says Whitey Secor,
SCS resource conservationist.
“They don’t realize that statewide,
we’ve already lost about half our
topsoil. Only about six inches
remain over large areas.”
“Also, soil conservation isn’t
cheap. It often takes several years
before the benefits in increased
productivity are realized. Crop
prices have been so low in recent
years that many farmers don’t feel
they can afford to invest in con
servation. Our job is to help far
mers find the most cost effective
ways to conserve soil and prevent
One concept SCS has been
promoting is do-it-yourself con
servation. For farmers such as
Nicolai, that means using his own
equipment and labor to install
structural practices like diversions
and waterways, instead of hiring a
contractor and bulldozer.
It took him about 10 hours using
The 10 drill has fifteen openers 8 row spac
mg and features similar to the popular Tye
Pasture Pleaseri" The convenient 120 plant
ing width complements the Tye No Till line of
80 Pasture Pleasers and the 160 Stubble
Drills Options include ★ Choice of coulter
blades * Wide variety of press/depth con
trol wheels and * Legume bluestem and
fertilizer attachments
a tractor and three-bottom plow to
build his first 1,500 feet of diversion
several years ago. He’s since built
another 3,500 feet. “It’s not fast,
but it is easy when you have soil
conservation people guiding you,”
he said.
The cost of building it himself
was about 25 cents per foot to
compared to a cost of two dollars
per foot to hire a contractor.
Cost is an important deter
minant of whether a farmer,is
willing to use conservation
practices, says Secor. Even
changing tillage practices,
generally considered a cost
efficient way to control erosion,
can have high initial start-up costs.
For example, no-till planters cost
about $20,000 or more. “That’s a
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big investment, especially when
crop prices have been depressed
for the past several years.”
“The government does offer
financial incentives to practice
conservation,” says Secor. In
addition to the Agricultural
Stabilization and Conservation
Service’s traditional cost-share
program, a number of special cost
share programs are available.
Last July, the state approved a $5
million cost-share program that
pays up to 87 M> percent of the cost
of practices. More money is likely
to be made available because of
the concern over the Chesapeake
Pollution from agriculture is
only one of several causes of the
Bay’s ills, and farmers are coming
to accept part of the responsibility
for cleaning it up. Says Nicolai, “I
think that farmers should be just
as responsive in cleaning up the
Bay as anybody else whether it’s a
steel plant or paint factory.
Anybody who is pollution the en
vironment is liable to somebody.”
What can other farmers do to
protect water quality? Con
servation officials want farmers to
realize that reducing nonpoint
pollution on the farm goes hand-m
-hand with improving agricultural
productivity. Out-of-pocket costs
encountered in adopting BMP’s
More Ways To Spend
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We are milking specialists
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our interest lies in being your
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charge for consultations.
We won’t sell you some
“New Gimmick” equipment
with lots of promises, if
repair or replacement of
your equipment is necessary.
We carry a full line of new
and pre-owned equipment to
match your budget. Our
Lancaster Farming, Saturday, May 26,1984—A31
can be at least partially offset by
reduced soil loss and lower fer
tilizer costs.
Tenant farmers should stress the
importance of best management
practices to absentee landowners.
Absentee landowners should in
turn encourage tenants to adopt
BMP’s by providing financial
iru t’lliu-s, such as offering to
share BMP installation costs.
Farmers who live farm from a
major river or stream, still need to
pay attention to pollution control.
Some pollutants are transported
rapidly for great distances by
storm runoff and associated high
streamflows. Even streams with
little or no flow during dry times of
the year can provide a path for
pollutants from fields to the Bay.
During normal farming ac
tivities, say conservationists,
farmers should strive to:
a. Keep water (rainfall, snow,
and process water) away from
potential pollutants (animal
wastes, fertilizers, pesticides) by
providing proper storage of these
b. Locate new animal facilities
as far as possible from streams,
and preferably at the top of a slope,
so that ruiioff from surrounding
areas does not have to cross the
facility. Collect contaminated
(Turn to Page A 34)
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