One of the valuable aspects of this series is that it has given us a chance to talk to farmers at all different stages of their soil health journey. It’s particularly inspiring to talk to someone who has been at this a long time and is really seeing the benefits of some of these practices. New York farmer Donn Branton discusses how decades of experimenting and learning has led him to develop his system of growing no-till non-GMO corn and soybeans with practices like cover crops and bio strip-till in Western New York.
“The water infiltration, the earthworm activity, those are the biggest things. I drove around with one of the soil water technicians one winter day and I said, you see that brown snowbank there? Drive up the road a little further next to our field. What color is that one? It’s white. What’s going on? I said, it’s wind erosion. You know, some things like that are so obvious when you’re keen to it.”
Don has a really interesting story that led him into farming on his own in 1979. Since that time, he’s often been ahead of the curve with everything from reducing tillage to adding cover crops to embracing variable rate technology to planting corn into biostrips.
“One of the biggest things when we first started doing reduced till, heavy rainfall come through. Neighbors would have standing water, we wouldn’t. Okay, what’s going on? Well, we got water infiltration and had earthworm middens.”