Saturday, April 19, 2014

Way To Go, Lucas

I met Lucas Criswell from Eastern Pennsylvania some years ago at a field day I was presenting near Hagerstown, Maryland.  Here he is being recognized as someone to follow.

"CEDAR FALLS — Farmers started the soil health movement that Ray Archuleta, a conservation agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Greensboro, N.C., sees as the solution to energy, climate, air and water quality and human health issues.

"Farmers are learning to farm in nature's image, and they are healing the land," said Archuleta during a recent workshop at the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. He also gave the Shivvers Lecture at Iowa State University.

"No more diapers, no more bandaids," said Archuleta, who is known as the "Soil Guy." "The only way to heal the land is through understanding."

Archuleta said desperation led him to question if there wasn't a better way. He worked for the NRCS in Oregon, lived in Idaho and drove across the Snake River to work. He noticed that when farmers turned on the irrigation water every summer "that beautiful emerald river turned to chocolate."

"We were putting millions of dollars into conservation, and that river was still chocolate, and that bothered me, but what resonated even more was that I had a hard-working, frugal friend who farmed 600 acres of prime Idaho land, and he couldn't make it and bring his son into the operation."

When Archuleta started working on the NRCS Soil Health and Sustainability Team, he began to understand the problem. He wasn't taught the things he since has learned about soil health, and neither were most people who studied soils at universities.

Lucas Criswell no-tilled corn into standing cereal rye on his steep Pennsylvania farm ground and grew 170-bushel corn. North Carolina farmers are growing no-till cotton, tomatoes and potatoes with cover crops. Kansas rancher Michael Thompson grew 58 bushel corn on 7 inches of total rainfall using no-till with cover crops."

We really need to think outside the box for maximum profit from maximum soil health.

Lucas is doing that.

Ed Winkle


  1. I found your photo of no-tilling corn into standing cover crop kind of frightening. Then I realized that it was not taken in Oregon.
    When we first started experimenting with no-till a few years back there was almost zero information that applied to Oregon. My ideas all came from reading the Organic Farmer magazine put out by Rodale Institute.
    We have a couple challenges that make it hard to do mid-west style no-tilling in a way that really builds the soil.
    Long and cold and wet winters where it doesn't snow and doesn't freeze but just rains. So the cover crops drowns out and the ground is so wet you can't get it sprayed in the spring.
    Little slugs that hitchiked over here from Asia which love eating anything you no-till.
    Plagues of voles which eat everything the slugs miss.
    Plagues of Canada geese that eat the slugs then finish off anything growing that has been left by the voles.
    We no-tilled corn into a nice stand of cover crop one year and found mice eating the corn plants.
    Some years you spend as much money on slug bait as you would with tillage...

  2. That post raised a lot of eyebrows on Crop Talk. I hear what you are saying, a group of county extension agents toured the Rodale farm in the late 80's when ridge till was taking hold in the Midwest. I saw firsthand why notill is so challenging in your area and saw the same thing in the Canterbury plains. You face a lot of obstacles, probably more than we did. I started in 1976 and almost gave up in 95 when I got tired of waiting for ground to dry out enough to notill and our weather acted like yours for four years.

    Then I heeded wise advice and took the coulter off and started treating land like it wasn't the swamp it sometimes acted like. It still does this year and 2011 and 2009 where REAL challenging. Somehow we have persevered out of dumb luck we call knowledge.

    I can't guarantee anyone success but if I can do it, I figure probably anyone could.