New tool can help combat dry weather challenges
By Mark Wineka
Last year’s drought cost 40 percent of the state’s hay production, and this year’s dry weather continues to challenge livestock farms.
Smaller Rowan County farms now have a chance to accelerate their renovation of drought-stricken pastures and hay land through use of a no-till grass drill, which is available for them to rent.
N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler traveled to Rowan County Thursday to announce that a new seed drill had arrived and demonstrate how it works.
“I certainly don’t want to be the hay czar of North Carolina again,” Troxler said.
The N.C. Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation Inc. recently received a $370,800 grant ó approved by the N.C. Council of State and awarded through Troxler’s department ó to acquire 25 drills for 25 soil and water conservation districts.
Each of the Truax Flex II-88 no-till grass drills costs $14,832.
The foundation anticipates the major users of the drills will be farmers who can’t buy a drill for themselves but can afford to rent one at roughly $10 an acre.
The foundation has been delivering the drills to individual soil and water conservation districts, which are responsible for the maintenance and rental.
The Rowan County Soil and Water Conservation District, chaired by Ben Knox, has turned over the drill to the South Rowan High School Agriculture Department, which will house, lease and maintain it.
The contact person at the school is David Overcash at 704-857-1161, extension 321.
Rowan farmers also can contact District Soil Conservationist Dane Hobbs at the local office, 704-637-0783.
North Carolina has some 1.75 million acres of pasture. The 25 counties in the no-till, grass drill project have more than 15,600 farmers with 809,000 acres of pasture.
Because of drought conditions, a high percentage of those acres require renovation, so they can return to high quality production.
“When you can’t grow grain,” said Cecil Settle, executive director of the N.C. Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation Inc., “you can’t grow animals as well.”
Settle said well-managed pastures can lead to twice the beef production as poorly managed pastures.
The beauty of the new drills is their special ability to plant small, light, fluffy seeds, including more drought tolerant native and warm season grasses.
The “no-till” aspect also means better soil conservation, greater fuel and labor efficiency and no need for seed bed preparation before planting.
“One time across the field is all there is to it,” Settle said.
The drill has three bins on top for three different sizes of seeds. Underneath, it has notch coulters that cut through the no-till residue on the ground. Planting coulters follow up, placing the seeds in the soil much like a drill press. Rollers or press wheels come next to make sure of a soil-to-seed contact.
Troxler said a lot of smaller farmers had a difficult time last year because they couldn’t make hay. The availability of this drill could help some of them stay on the farm, he said.
Rowan Soil & Water Conservation supervisors are hoping the drill will be used by local cattle producers to replant pastures during the fall. Other uses for the drill will be for planting warm season perennial grasses that are more desirable for wildlife.
The drill can plant species such as switchgrass, little bluestem, gama grass and Indian grass
After a brief press conference Thursday afternoon at the Piedmont Research Station on Sherrills Ford Road, Troxler hopped on a tractor and made several passes with the new drill through a no-till demonstration garden on N.C. 801 near West Rowan High School.
The garden has been set up and managed by District Conservationist Larry Hendrix of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Just for demonstration purposes, Troxler used the no-till drill to plant field peas.
The NRCS field office has set up the garden to show that commonly grown vegetables could be implemented with no-tillage or conservation tillage.
Crops planted in the garden, which is on local farmer Charlie Hamby’s land, include sweet corn, green beans, black-eye peas, butterbeans, okra, cantaloupes and tomatoes.
Because Hamby already had been using no-tillage methods on his field, only a limited amount of nutrients were needed.
Rye grain served as the cover crop, and it was planted last fall, when things were especially dry. It was replanted to obtain an acceptable amount of residue, which serves to hold moisture during hot summer days.
In the early spring, the rye was sprayed with a herbicide and rolled down to make it ready for no-till vegetables.
So far, Hendrix reports, some timely rainfall and good moisture retention have helped the garden, but it still needs more water to thrive. The garden has seen 4.34 inches of rain in April, 1.73 inches in May and 1.81 inches in June.
“You can grow vegetables no-till,” said Bruce Miller, one of five supervisors for the Rowan Soil & Water Conservation District, “but you can’t grow vegetables without water.”
The local district conservationists and Natural Resources Conservation Service have been assisting farmers in implementing no-till methods for 25 years. Before that initiative started, soil loss or soil movement had been measured at some 15 to 20 tons per acre each year.
Previous conservation methods such as contour plowing and terracing were still allowing large amounts of soil loss in cultivated fields.
But no-till methods reduce soil loss to almost zero, the conservationists say.
Drills received at the Piedmont Research Station Thursday will be used in Rowan, Anson, Davie, Stanly and Union counties. Each of those counties receiving a drill will receive training on setting it up, maintaining it and adjusting for the various type of seeds to be planted.