Sunday, 12 November 2017

Prairie Strips Protect Soil

Prairie strip embedded in an agricultural (corn) watershed. Prairie strips increase nutrient and sediment retention, reduce runoff, and increase biodiversity. Iowa State University

Farming is tough and farmers want to make sure they make good decisions. Most farmers have a deep conservation ethic and commitment to their land. Now doing well by doing good may be just what the soil doctor ordered.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the results of a ten year study. The practice of prairie strips began as research plots at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, Iowa, and has expanded to 47 commercial farm sites in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and other states.

Iowa Public Radio interviewed Lisa Schulte Moore, the primary researcher and a professor at Iowa State University. She cited the following benefits:

  • reducing soil loss by 95 percent
  • reducing phosphorus runoff by 77 percent
  • reducing overall nitrogen loss by 70 percent
  • attracting pollinators
  • increasing the number and diversity of birds.

By swapping out deep rooted native plants for cool-season monoculture grasses currently in use on field edges and across gently sloping fields, many farmers can significantly improve soil retention while reducing runoff.

According to a study by Helmers and Zhou incorporating prairie strips at the footslope position of annual rowcrop systems provides an effective way to reduce sediment loss in agricultural runoff from under a no-till system.

While not specifically sited in the study, water that stays on the land also improves groundwater recharge at the same time it is capturing phosphorus and nitrogen.

Friday, 03 November 2017

Fill’er Up!

Fall means it’s time to head into the woodlot to make wood for the furnace or fireplace. The cooler temperatures and fallen leaves also make brush cutting much easier.

Most landowners own several pieces of two-cycle equipment. Usually that list includes a chainsaw, though it may also include leaf blower, brush saw and even an old outboard motor or dirt bike. One thing is for sure; they all need fuel to run.

Two-cycle engines are popular because their power to weight ratio is so much better than four-cycle engines. That means a two-cycle engine will be a whole lot lighter its four-cycle cousin. As we all know, the trade-off is that they need to burn a mix of gas and two-cycle oil. Try using straight gas and watch you power equipment destroy itself as the pistons become welded to the cylinder walls.

What you may not know, however, is that most two-cycle engines are not designed to burn gasoline that contains ethanol, which eats away various gaskets and seals. 

While running a tank of ethanol containing gas may not immediately damage you equipment, many of us leave gas in the tank for days, weeks or months. To tell the truth, that half tank might sit unused in you brush saw or chainsaw for several years. Over that kind of time, even a single load of ethanol containing fuel cause significant damage.

Many stations only sell gas that contains ethanol. Others may sell ethanol-free gas but only in premium grades. It really makes sense to take the extra effort to find and use ethanol free gasoline in your power equipment.

Pure-gas.org is a website that lists gas stations that sell ethanol free gasoline. Their About page get into the nuts and bolts of ethanol free fuel. Whether a particular brand or grade contains ethanol can vary from one location to another, so you need to pay attention every time you stop at the pump.

Be safe and have fun in the woods.