Human interest for all topics
It seems so reasonable to tell human-interest stories to illustrate the need for bone-marrow transplants, the sad results of texting while driving — even solutions for childhood obesity.
But what do you do when your topic is dirt?
That’s what makes the USDA’s PRSA Silver Anvil Award-winning campaign, “Profiles in Soil Health,” so compelling. It tells the stories of real people who are affected by the vitality of the ground beneath our feet.
The USDA uses this approach in …
The summer of 2012 was one of the hottest on record in eastern Montana. Plants were wilting and a soil thermometer measured a temperature of 100 degrees just below the soil surface. Despite the heat, the soil on Dirk O’Connor’s farm still held moisture, and the peas, sunflowers, and wheat still produced.
“This [no-till] system gets us through the dry, hot times,” says O’Connor, a farmer with 7,000 acres of cropland near Plevna, Mont. Nine years ago, the O’Connor farm switched to zero-till farming in order to save time, improve soil health and produce forage for their cattle.
While burning crop residue each spring on the Fairfield bench in north central Montana may be the norm, you won’t find a burned field on land Julie Taylor farms with her husband, Curt.
Farmers on the irrigated Fairfield bench produce malt barley, primarily under contract for Anheuser Busch. Stubble from the high residue crop is burned each spring so conventional planters not designed to cut through heavy residue can seed fields without the interference of residue.
Taylor, a third generation farmer, grew up using conventional agricultural practices. But her view of conventional methods began to change when she and her husband bought their farm and started breaking out old hay stands. She said they could see the difference between the hay land soil that had not been tilled for 30 or 40 years and the cropland that had been tilled and monocropped every year. “The hay land soil was much richer in color and more resilient; we didn’t want to lose that.”
Though little precipitation fell from the clouds last summer across central Ohio, David Brandt’s healthy soil delivered what the sky could not — moisture to his thirsty crops.
At harvest time, while other farmers in the area averaged only 60-70 bushels of corn per acre, Brandt’s yield was nearly twice that. He attributes the difference to the health and vitality of his soil — and his use of cover crops.
The results from a recent survey offsite link image confirm that soil health-building cover crops delivered for many others affected by the drought, too.
More than 750 farmers, primarily from the drought-stricken upper Mississippi River watershed, responded last winter to a survey conducted by the USDA North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and the Conservation Technology Information Center.
Even in survey results. Even if your topic is dirt.