July 15, 2010

Excessive heat and humidity were not enough to keep more than 400 people away from the recent 52nd Annual Farm-City Field Day in Franklin County. This year's event, held on Lynmoor Farm, included sessions on forages, alpacas, soil characteristics, hay fertilization and woodland management, with the common thread being land stewardship.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service was one of the sponsors of the event, and Keenan Bishop, Franklin County agriculture and natural resources extension agent, was one of the organizers.

"We try to make the stops interesting to city people to learn what farmers are having to deal with," Bishop said. "We also try to make it educational to farmers so they can maybe see, ‘Well, this is something new; maybe this is something I need to check out or learn about.'"

Lynmoor Farm owner Maurice Cook is a soil scientist and professor emeritus at North Carolina State University. The farm has been in his family for 150 years. Cook lives in North Carolina, however each year he makes as many trips as he can back to the land of his roots. The farm was a major producer of burley tobacco for 135 continuous years, but today it produces hay and woodlands. According to Cook, there is an abundance of deer, wild turkeys, coyotes and foxes on the property, and they thrive in part due to the stewardship practices he set in place.

"I believe that conservation of our natural resources-soil, water, plants, woodlands, wildlife-is important. We're doing some things here that I think are of interest, and we would like to share them with people," he said.

Participants had a special opportunity to examine a soil profile on the farm by stopping by a 6-foot deep pit dug for the occasion.

The pit showed definite strata of soil. On the top was a 16-inch layer of silt loam topsoil originating from loess, wind-blown silty material that accumulated on high ridges during the last ice age. Beneath that was a 20-inch layer of silty clay subsoil, which sat atop a layer of iron and manganese. A heavy layer of clay was below that. Bedrock, consisting of 80 percent limestone and 20 percent shale, was noted at 58 inches.

"I am especially pleased that we had that pit this year, because of my background and training in soil science. Most people might be familiar with the top few inches of soil that they use for growing a crop, but they probably are not familiar with the underlying soil, which is very important in determining the best use for a soil. The pit reflected the best soil on the property. I wish there were more of it," Cook said. "Once you get down on the side slopes and the base of these hills, they (soils) are thin, high in clay and of limited productivity. But that's where trees fit into the scheme so well. Trees will grow on such land, whereas you wouldn't think of putting a crop of any kind on them. So it's a good way of making productive use of marginal land."

Ben Lyle, a forester with the Kentucky Division of Forestry, explained to the guests how marginal land could be made profitable with careful management. He said the woodlands on Lynmoor Farm had approximately 300,000 board feet of timber prior to the harvest that occurred a decade ago.

"The temptation is to cut it all, but that's going to change that stand," he said. "If that had happened 10 years ago, we wouldn't see much oak come back. There would be too much sun. Instead, we'd see a lot of sugar maple, elm and ash. Oak has historically been a good selling, steady species. If you manage for oak, you'll have other species too. Diversity is good."

Cook chose to harvest half the volume of the marketable stand in 2000. He left healthy trees that were merchantable and made sure there were species left that he wanted to promote.

"After the harvest, with more room to grow, the (trees') growth rate doubled, from 1 inch in diameter every 10 years to 2 inches in diameter in the same amount of time," Lyle said. "That translated to an increase of 4 percent per year on the merchantable volume of the stand."

Ray Smith, UK extension professor in plant and soil sciences, spoke about managing forages such as alfalfa and clover. He suggested cutting for hay if grass and weeds are coming up, rather than spraying herbicides.

"Yield won't be high, but there's a chance the alfalfa will come back faster than the grass weeds," he said, explaining how that method can promote a greater yield for the next cutting and reduce herbicide use, thereby saving money in the long run.

Greg Schwab, UK extension associate professor in plant sciences, stressed the importance of soil tests before adding fertilizer.

"A lot of people are shocked-about one-third of submitted soil samples show a need for fertilizer, one-third are just fine, and one-third are too high in fertility. If samples are in the high range, then farmers can cut back on fertilization," he said.

He emphasized that after they get their fertilizer recommendations back from the soil tests, farmers should talk to their extension agents about production methods. Hay fields need different fertilizer applications than pastures because cattle are redistributing nutrients. Rotational grazing through smaller pastures forces cattle to do a better job at redistributing nutrients, he said.

Cook summed up the day's tours with his personal credo.

"If you take care of the land, it will take care of you," he said.

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