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Farmers Try to Recreate 'Fence Row' Soil

Farmers Try to Recreate 'Fence Row' Soil
Return to those days when whole field yielded like fence row did.

Beck's Hybrids has held more than 30 winter meetings for customers across their marketing region over the past six weeks. Everyone attending watches a video message from Sonny Beck, Atlanta, with his farmer hat and work clothes on, and a spade in his hand. He's out in the field, looking at a fence row.

"We all remember plowing up fence rows over the past several years," he says. "For the first year or two, crops grow better and yield more where the fence row was. Then yields tail off to the level of the rest of the field.

Striking demo: Hans Kok demonstrates how no-till soil holds together and takes in moisture when placed in water, while conventional soil falls apart because it has no structure.

"What is it about that fence row that makes the difference? When you dig into it, it's mellow, and you find earthworms going down and gray worms moving sideways. There is a lot of biological activity going on there."

Beck makes the case for their brand name seed treatment, Escalate, which contains biological agents plus pesticides to protect the seed. He believes returning biological activity to the soil is a key to pushing yields higher.

Soil conservation leaders agree. Many of them are talking soil health these days, and nowhere more so than in Indiana. Hans Kok of the Conservation Cropping Initiative recently reminded an audience of farmers that during the past year or so, he and many others have verified the importance of soil health with demonstrations that show conventional soil breaking apart in water, while no-till soil absorbs the water, as it would in the field, and hangs together.

Now he says it's time to take it to the next level. One of the best ways to improve soil health is to work cover crops into the system. There may not be one right cover crop for any one operation, but there are a host of them out there that people can try, he says. He believes that is one important way farmers will return soils to the condition like the soil in most of those fence rows that were plowed out years ago.

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