It might be time to break old habits


Brad RossContributing Columnist

While enjoying conversation with a long-ago co-worker this past weekend, he shared with me that a couple of years ago he had purchased a used Kubota tractor. He had grown up on a farm driving Farmall tractors and the reverse shift was always “to the left and up.”

He had a Farmall during his adult years also, so the shifting pattern for reverse was well ingrained as one of his habits. But when he got the Kubota, he found the reverse to be to the right and up. Even though he’s been using the Kubota for a couple of years, he still looks for the reverse on the left of the gear pattern.

It got me to thinking — many of the things we do in our lives are purely out of habit, and old habits are hard to break. In a farming operation, a habit may be applying the same type and rate of fertilizer each year, even though a soil test indicates that phosphorous and potash are not needed.

I recall farming in the 1980s when I lived in Knox County and my soil tests indicated that I really didn’t need all that much phosphorous. Fertilizer was relatively cheap and I didn’t want to take a chance of limiting my yield, so I put on 300 pounds per acre of 9-23-30 each year. Today, we know that we need to limit amounts to only the uptake needs of the crop and we have the technology and equipment to do that. We just need to break old habits. Are you soil testing regularly and adjusting fertilizer applications according to your most recent soil tests?

Another old habit might be spreading manure in the field closest to the barn, just to get rid of it. How about breaking the habit and spreading on other fields according to soil tests? And maybe you have always waited until the ground was frozen in the winter to spread your manure to keep from rutting the field. Well, in case you missed the news lately, that practice is no longer in vogue – and if you are in the Lake Erie watershed (which Delaware County is not), it is illegal. However, this practice will likely be banned statewide in the near future, so you might want to break that bad habit now. Store your manure until the field conditions are optimal, then spread on fields that have the lowest nutrient levels first.

One habit that I have had a hard time understanding is the feeling for the need to plow (ugh — I hate using that four-letter word!). The use of no-till farming has long been proven as a viable, successful method which reduces soil erosion, saves fuel and labor, improves the health of the soil, and increases crop yield potential. Plowing is a no-brainer and should be an easy habit to break.

There are other everyday agricultural “habits” that affect downstream water quality, add to the development of toxic algae blooms, increase the hypoxia problems in the Gulf of Mexico, and cost water treatment plants more to purify drinking water. If you are not sure if all your “habits” are good conservation habits on your farm, take a moment to assess your operation. Ask yourself if there is a better way, maybe one that will save you time and money, or be more environmentally responsible (or both!). Maybe it’s time to “kick the habit” and start a new one.

If you need assistance, give the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District a call (740-368-1921). We are here to help.

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Brad RossContributing Columnist

Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at brad-ross@delawareswcd.org.

Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at brad-ross@delawareswcd.org.