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Conservation wish list

Dear Santa,

This year, the Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District wants one thing: a clean, healthy environment. Although our Christmas list may be short, it has many parts to it. Let’s start with the soil that sits under our feet. While soil is often overlooked, it is a crucial element that supports the food that nourishes us. To ensure that the soil continues to produce healthy crops, we must take care of it.

Imagine a crop field that is worked by heavy equipment, such as plows and discs, year after year. This repeated action breaks apart the soil aggregates, which are tiny clods that provide space between soil particles so that water and air can enter the soil. As the aggregates break down, it is more difficult for water and oxygen to trickle into the soil because the spaces between the soil particles become smaller and smaller. If crops cannot get enough water and oxygen, they start to suffer and produce smaller yields of poorer quality.

Our Christmas wish for healthy soil is for local farmers to use no-tillage equipment instead of the conventional tillage method. A no-till seeder eliminates the need for tillage before planting because it pushes the seed into the ground through the leftover crop residue. In addition to saving time and fuel costs associated with tillage, no-till seeding reduces the loss of nutrient-rich topsoil caused by tillage, therefore producing a better crop. The Piedmont SWCD provides a no-till seeder rental program for farmers to sow small grain crops and grasses. We provide delivery and pickup (within Amelia, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties) and technical assistance at no additional charge. For more information, contact equipment manager, Stephen Reames, at (434) 321-3787.

Another component of a healthy environment is good water quality. Clean local streams and a thriving Chesapeake Bay support the economy by providing recreation, job and food market opportunities. They also enhance the community with places to fish, canoe and swim. Our wish this Christmas is for residents to take water quality improvement measures, whether at home or on the farm.

One way to make a difference at home is by installing rain barrels underneath your gutters or at the edge of your roof where rain water exits. These rain storage containers collect water and prevent it from rushing across the ground and depositing soil, pollutants, fertilizer and pet waste into streams. They also provide a source of free water that can be used for watering indoor and outdoor plants, gardens and lawns and for washing vehicles.

On the farm there are many steps you can take to improve water quality. The District provides financial incentives in the form of cost-share for agricultural producers to install such measures on their farm. Our program includes fencing livestock out of streams and installing an alternative water source, such as a well and trough precision nutrient management of nitrogen and phosphorous, animal waste control facilities, and cover cropping, to name a few. All of our best management practices (BMPs) identify the soil and water quality problems of a site and addresses them with the implementation of appropriate conservation practices. BMPs not only benefit soil and water quality — they also benefit the farmer as crops and livestock flourish when soil and water are healthy. To learn more about this voluntary program contact Charlie Wootton at (434) 392-3782 ext. 128 or Kevin Dunn at (434) 392-3782 ext. 116.

This year, what steps will you take to make the environment a better place for you and for future generations?

Emily Gibbs is the residential conservation and marketing coordinator at Piedmont Soil & Water Conservation. You can contact her at (434) 392-3782 ext. 131 or visit www.piedmontswcd.org.