Soil health and its challenges in Nevada to be discussed in workshop
Building healthy soil and keeping it that way has been a prominent concern in farming ever since the Dust Bowl in the ’30s, but in Nevada—the state with the lowest annual precipitation in the country—it’s a whole different battle.
Cover crops are used to “cover” the soil between growing seasons of whatever crop—or crops—that particular farm might be selling. They’re important because they help to avoid erosion, and they help restore nutrients to the soil. But with little to no rainfall, cover crops cost much more in the Silver State than in other parts of the country.
“Cover crops are really hard for Nevada,” said Albert Mulder, the state agronomist for the National Resources Converservation Service. “It’s extremely hard because there’s no dry land farming in the state. So where does that put us with the rest of the country? It costs us money to grow cover crop. There are a lot of beneficials, but the producers want to see it now. I planted it yesterday, and I want to see my profits tomorrow. And it doesn’t happen that quickly.”
Dry land farming is farming that uses natural precipitation to water the fields. Nevada farmers must use irrigation to water their crops, which greatly increases the cost of growing a cover crop. There are benefits—for the soil and in the long-term—but most farmers want, and even need, the profit now.
“We grow cover crop [in Nevada],” Mulder said. “It’s called alfalfa or hay. The problem is we mine it. The idea is to put it right back in the soil. … What’s nice in the Midwest is that they have rainfall, so really, the only cost is seed and the equipment and there’s a lot of benefits. In Nevada, we have to turn on the water. We also have a really short growing season, so we can’t really grow two crops. We can do it, like in Fallon, with the corn and then they come in with the rye. But that rye is worth so much money baled. You’ve got feed buyers coming by saying, ’I’ll give you $300 a ton for that hay.’ Most guys would cut it. I would cut it.”
And that essentially defeats the purpose of the cover crop. So what’s the solution?
“That’s the million dollar question,” Mulder said. “Big pockets. Putting a lot of money out front and not seeing a return for a long time. We’re trying to get that mentality for those guys to think that far ahead. Again, most people want to see profit immediately, and I really don’t blame them.”
Getting farmers into the mindset of conserving their soil and building or keeping it healthy is the idea behind an upcoming workshop Mulder will be speaking at, along with Ben Bowell from Oregon Tilth—a nonprofit organic certification and education organization. Western Nevada College’s Specialty Crop Institute is hosting the workshop titled “Building Healthy Soils” on Sept. 22. The cost is $35 to register. It will also include lunch and a tour of Holley Family Farms in Dayton.
The workshop will discuss Nevada soil health and struggles in depth as well as cover crops in organic systems. Information about financial and technical support available will be included, too. Much of this support comes from NRCS.