2016 Summer Conservation Cropping Seminar

By: Woody Woodruff

The Illinois Conservation Partnership, of which Illinois Stewardship Alliance is a part of, held their Summer Conservation Cropping Seminar in Lexington, Illinois on August 31st. The three stop bus tour began at the Illinois State University Department of Agriculture Farm in Lexington. The Agriculture Department Chair, Dr. Rob Rhykerd, welcomed the crowd to the University Farm and Dr. Clay Robinson, soils professor, was host to a soil pit analysis. For those who have not experienced a soil pit, it is normally a hole dug 3 feet wide, 4 feet deep, and about 6 feet long. This exposes the layers of earth so that it can be analyzed to determine the type of soil, the history of the soil, and what type of condition the soil is in for crop production.

The second stop on the Summer Conservation Cropping seminar’s guided bus tour was an ongoing field tile study being conducted by Dr. Shalamar Armstrong. He and some Illinois State University grad students are studying the effect that cover crops have on holding on to the nutrients applied to the field. The plot has a number of water samplers located on the different tile lines testing for losses in nutrients entering the tile system from the fields. Each year the weather patterns have been a little different so his findings are becoming more and more conclusive to the value of cover crops in holding onto renegade nutrients and preventing them from leaving the field.

At the final location, farm stewards Mark Freed and Dave Stutzman hosted Frank Gibbs, a state soil scientist from Ohio. The Freed farm has had a good history of using not till, years of repeated cover crop mixes, manure applications, and a corn, bean, wheat, rotation. This type of soil health approach is perfect for the establishment of worms and their living quarters. To test and see if there are a healthy  number of worms in the ground, Frank developed the smoking worm hole demonstration, during which he blows smoke into one end of a perforated tile line. If the soil has a lot of worms making lots of worm channels then the smoke can escape through the worm channels to the surface and you see lots of smoke coming from the worm holes.  According to Frank Gibbs, this demonstration site produced some of the best results to date.

For a virtual re-cap of this Summer Conservation Cropping Seminar, including tour sites and the smoking worm-hole demonstration, check out the video below.

The next three Regional Conservation Cropping System Seminars will be in January 24th at Rockford, January 25th in Jacksonville, and January 26th in Carbondale. More information will be posted to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance Website as it becomes available.