State head visits local farms

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Members of the Soil and Water Conservation Department of Covington County and state conservationist Ben Malone toured several farms in the area on Tuesday that have implemented different conservation tactics into their farming.

Conservation tillage, using cover crops, on the Wiggins Farm was first for stop for the tour.

“One of the benefits of this method is that helps cut down on soil erosion,” District Conservationist for Covington County Josh Elliot said. “Also, with the cover crop, it will retain moisture better during dry years.”

State conservationist Ben Malone checks out one of Marcel Law’s trees during his visit on Tuesday. Also shown are Bill Godwin, Patricia Gunter and Bobby Jackson.

State conservationist Ben Malone checks out one of Marcel Law’s trees during his visit on Tuesday. Also shown are Bill Godwin, Patricia Gunter and Bobby Jackson.

Erosion occurs most rapidly on cropland where there is no soil cover. Cover crops provide protection during those periods when a primary crop isn’t present. The leftover plant pieces help reduce the impact of raindrops. Not only do cover crops provide surface erosion protection, but the root growth helps stabilize the soil by infiltrating the profile and holding it in place.

Elliot also said the cover crop works as a natural herbicide of sorts.

“When the cover crops begin to grow they will block out light from some competing weeds,” Elliot said. “After the cover crop is terminated, their residues can act as mulches by smothering out weeds and suppressing weed seed germination.”

Next up, the group went to Marcel Law’s home to see his hoop houses.

“Mr. Law came to use with plans for hoop house and we got his first house set up with us with by cost share,” Elliot said. “He made enough money off that first one that he was able to build a second house on his own.”

A retired teacher who spent his adult life traveling and teaching at places all over the globe, Law met his wife while teaching in Thailand. The pair moved back to Alabama several years ago and Law became fascinated with growing Asian plants.

“I’ve got a lot of different Asian plants that I grow and sell,” Law said. “Mostly Asian peppers and Asian eggplants. We market them to the different Asian restaurants here and in Florida. We offer them plants that they may not have access to otherwise.”

Hoop houses give growers the ability to extend their growing season like a greenhouse, but are different than normal greenhouses. Plants are grown in the hoop in hoop houses and not tables like in greenhouses.

Like greenhouses, hoop houses protect plants and extend the growing season by creating a warmer environment for plants. Hoop houses provide an opportunity to grow different varieties or plants that would otherwise be unsuccessful in a particular climate.

The group then went to check out a cover crop of a mixture of oats and tillage radishes at Jeff Goolsby’s farm.

“This one of the first farms in Covington County that we got to use the tillage radishes,” Patrick Rohling said. “These radishes produce a big tap root that sends off a bunch of micro roots. Those roots provides carbon to the soil when they break down.”

With the multi-species cover crop mix, soil levels are easier to maintain.

“This mixture with oats and tillage radish will help keep the carbon and nitrogen levels in check,” Rohling said. “Some of it will be an immediate release, but it will also continue to release during the growing season.”