Saving Kentucky’s Soil and Water

Conservation means using special methods to manage and encourage better use of Kentucky’s soil and water resources. Farmers across the state use existing and new best practices to make sure our soil stays rich and our water clean.

No-Till Crop Methods

Tilling is simply a method of preparing a field for farming by digging up or agitating soil. Many farmers today adopt no-till crop farming to reduce soil erosion. In fact, no-till crop farming, or the practice of not breaking up soil before planting a crop, has its roots in Kentucky. Christian County farmer Harry Young Jr. planted the first commercial no-till crop more than 50 years ago.

While no-till farming certainly helps reduce soil erosion, farmers have found additional benefits including reduced fuel use, increased organic matter, higher quality, and better water-holding capacity in the soil. Today, about 70 percent of the state’s wheat acreage, 50 percent of the corn acreage, and 80 percent of soybean acreage is produced without tilling.

Cover Crops

When a field is not in use, farmers plant a cover crop. Kentucky farmers have long known that planting cover crops, such as grasses and legumes, will protect soil from erosion during months when primary crops are not being grown. Plant roots hold soil particles together and improve soil quality. Cover crops also support earthworms whose activities improve water movement in soil and increase available nutrients. Cover crops aren’t just for farmer’s fields; they can be used year-round near waterways. Planting cover crops as “buffers” reduces the amount of soil and nutrients that enter the waterway during rain events.

Protecting Our Resources

In 1994, pollution from agriculture and forestry activities prompted the Kentucky General Assembly to pass the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Act to protect surface and groundwater resources. The act requires all farmers and foresters using 10 or more acres for production to develop and implement a water quality plan using best management practices. Those practices include rotational grazing, planting permanent crops and trees near streams, and managing chemical use responsibly.

It is in all of our best interests to protect our resources. Conservation keeps nutrients in the soil, and healthy soil increases farm sustainability. Responsible resource use reduces risks for livestock and crops, and creates natural flood control. Conservation improves drinking water quality, and restores and enhances wildlife habitat.

When farmers choose methods that protect soil and water resources - everyone benefits from a better overall quality of life.

Glossary of Terms:

  • Tilling- Preparing a field for planting by turning, digging, or agitating soil.
  • “No Till” crop farming- A method where soil does not get tilled before planting.
  • Cover crops- A crop grown to protect soil; not for harvest purposes.
  • Erosion- A slow wearing down or away of something; by wind, water, or other natural causes.
  • Rotational grazing- A farming practice where grazing animals move to prescribed pastures within the overall acreage as needed or on a schedule.
  • Acreage- An area of land, often measured in acres and used for agriculture.