Oklahoma farmers aren’t just thinking about soil health – they are taking action and putting conservation practices to work.
According to the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture, released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of farms using cover crops increased by 24%, and the number of acres using cover crops increased by 51% over a five-year period, beginning in 2012.
Meanwhile, intensive tillage practices used by Oklahoma farmers decreased by 29%.
These statistics come as no surprise to the farmers who serve on the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC).
For many Oklahoma farmers and ranchers, conservation isn’t just a goal, it’s something they actively pursue and demonstrate in their words and practices.
See more: Farming for the Future in Oklahoma
No-Till Practice Protects Soil
Trey Lam, executive director of the OCC, is a fourth-generation farmer on the same Pauls Valley land his family has worked for decades. The farm is currently a cow-calf operation using the farmland to support the cattle.
Lam switched to planting cover crops and no-till farming to improve soil health. He uses electrical fencing to support rotational grazing, partitioning off pastures into smaller paddocks for his herd’s rotation.
No-till and the use of cover crops is a big difference from the uniformity of crops grown on the land by his ancestors.
“In the past, our idea was to create a uniform seed bed,” Lam says. “We all thought it was the best practice. We now know that it takes life out of the soil.”
Lam explains the old methods created complete compaction of the soil and formed a pan water and roots couldn’t penetrate. In addition, the tilled soil was exposed to extreme temperatures, wind and rain, all causing erosion.
“Now, our goal is to get the soil back to a more natural state and to allow the living organisms and soil and roots to work together,” Lam says. “These types of changes mean healthier crops and reduced erosion, which in turn means cleaner water.”
Farmers like Lam, welcome the science supporting and promoting the implementation of conservation practices.
“Some people may think all farmers do is think about the next crop, about how many bushels of corn or wheat they can harvest,” he says. “That’s not it at all. Farmers are thinking about the years ahead, how to care for the land in a way that it will continue to produce for them, their children and their children’s children.”
See more: Discover the Future of Conservation
Water Retention Stops Erosion
Philip Campbell, the Area II commissioner on the OCC, has also implemented conservation efforts on his cow-calf herd and orchard near Luther. The key practices he has put in place include the addition of a pond and well.
“Our property is on a slope and our pastures had terraces,” he says. “As water would flow down, it would run to a creek that flows east to west on our property. Now, we’re able to capture that water and store it, and ultimately prevent the soil from eroding and flowing into the creek.”
Campbell is joined on the OCC by Karl Jett, the Area I commissioner, who runs a ranch in Beaver County. Jett’s commitment to conservation is well known throughout the state. He was named into the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Hall of Fame.
Some of the conservation practices used by Jett include minimum and no-till, grass waterways, terraces and rotational grazing.
These producers are a small sampling of the many Oklahomans who support conservation with their words and actions – setting a good example for farmers everywhere.