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Why farmers protect a 'good piece of dirt'

Why farmers protect a 'good piece of dirt'
Conservation lessons easy to understand when told with a little humor.

By Donya Lester

Editor's note: Lester is executive director of the Purdue University Ag Alumni Association. She also farms with her husband, Dan, in Montgomery County. Recently she spoke to the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisors. Here is an excerpt from her talk.

I've learned how important soil conservation is to farmers. My husband is 100% no-till. He hasn't always been. He tried it years ago until he found trees growing in his fields. That was when many thought it wasn't necessary to no-till flat, black ground.

Watch where you drive! Donya Lester used a story about grain carts to stress the need to protect soil.

The equipment and herbicides are better for no-till now, and it works well for us. Why do we do it?  We were driving through the country this winter and saw dirty snow. It was near flat land tilled in the fall.

Dan is a really good teacher when it comes to educating me about farming and especially about soil conservation. Many pure conservationists frown if you say "dirt." They call it soil. Dan says it's OK to say "dirt" if you say it with pride – like, "that's a good piece of flat, black dirt."

Related: Is It Time to Reconsider No-Till?

There's one thing about farming flat, black land that is different than farming more sandy soils. Our land tends to be on the wet side. You don't drive on our soils when you don't have to, especially not with heavy equipment, like loaded grain carts. It's now the last thing I want because he has taught me that you want to protect your natural resource.

One fall I spotted an employee driving a grain cart across the field where he wasn't supposed to be driving it. I pulled over and flagged him down, and proceeded to tell him why we couldn't have him driving that grain cart where he was driving it.

Related: Even No-Till and Cover Crops Won't Cure Soil Compaction Overnight

Dan came up the driveway in his pickup truck. I knew he would stop. Instead, he drove right by.

Later that evening I asked him, "Why didn't you stop? Didn't you see what he was doing?"

"Yes," Dan responded with a grain. "I saw what he did. But you were letting him have it. I've been on the receiving end of that. I figured if I stopped and talked to him it would just be piling on."

We don't drive on soil when we don't have to, but we do say "dirt" with pride!

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