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Agricultural Programs - Understanding and Managing Soils for Healthy Productive Crops

farmer on tractor in field; photo by Edwin RemsbergThis five-part series is designed for both experienced and new farmers to gain a solid understanding of farm soils and how to best manage them for long term, healthy, and productive soils. In order to successfully manage a soil for long-term production it is important for farmers to have a basis of understanding soil physical, chemical, and biological properties, management and enhancement of soil organic matter, options and recommendations for soil amendments, cover cropping, and crop rotations. Through this series farmers will gain a holistic understanding and gain management strategies for optimum crop production and long-term soil health.

When: Tuesday Evenings, 6:00 – 8:00 PM, October 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29, 2013

Where: Conference Room, UMaine Extension Knox and Lincoln County Office, 377 Manktown Road, Waldoboro, ME 04572

Cost: $40 per person for the series, or $10 per session

Register online. Pre-registration required.

Books and Publications on Soil:

For more information, contact Mark Hutchinson at or 207.832.0343 or 800.244.2104 (in Maine).

If you are a person with a disability and need an accommodation to participate in this program, please call Mark Hutchinson at 207.832.0343, 800.244.2104 (in Maine) or 800.287.8957 (TDD) to discuss your needs. Receiving requests for accommodations at least ten (10) days before the program provides a reasonable amount of time to meet the request, however all requests will be considered.

Course Schedule

Oct 1 – Soil Basics: The Physical Properties of Soil, with Frank Wertheim, Extension Educator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, York County

What are the basic physical components of soil including texture, structure, pH, and Cation Exchange Capacity and why are they important to understand from a soil management perspective? Also included in this session will be online exploration of the USDA Web Soil Survey — a great tool for identifying the soils characteristics of your specific farm site and/or assessing soil from a field you may wish to buy/lease to farm.

Oct 8Soil Organic Matter, with Ellen Mallory, Sustainable Agriculture Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Soil organic matter accounts for less than 5% of the total weight of most soils yet it has huge impacts on soil’s biological, chemical, and physical properties, and crop productivity. Organic matter feeds soil microbes, stores and supplies plant nutrients and water, improves soil tilth, and protects against erosion. Some farming practices tend to enhance soil organic matter, while others degrade it. In this session, we’ll talk about the different types of soil organic matter and how they influence soil function and crop production, the sources and cycling of soil organic matter, and specific strategies to build and maintain soil organic matter.

Oct 15Crop Rotation for Better Soils, with Eric Sideman, Organic Crop Specialist, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Crop rotation is at the center of managing soil, pests, and weeds in organic production systems. Often the most effective rotation is a rotation of cash crops with cover crops. There is no “best” rotation, just as there is no “best” cover crop. The first step in designing a rotation is prioritizing the objectives. Eric will talk about considerations in matching a rotation plan and choice of cover crops with objectives, and present some examples. Following the presentation there will be a facilitated discussion where everyone can raise questions and give answers.

Oct. 22Soil Testing Options for Vegetable Growers, with Bruce Hoskins, Soil Scientist, University of Maine Soil Testing and Analytical Lab

The UMaine Soil Testing program has greatly expanded over the years to include many testing packages and options: Standard, Comprehensive, High Tunnel, Soil Biology, and Soil Quality, among others. Choosing the best package depends on time of year, value of the crop, and intensity of management. There will be an overview of the mechanics of soil testing, including proper sampling. The program will cover the basic concepts of nutrient availability, how nutrients are held and supplied by the soil, and how to read a soil test report. Recommendations for soil amendments can follow a buildup and maintenance model or a sufficiency-level model, depending on the crop and the management philosophy used. Growers can also choose conventional or natural nutrient sources, both of which will be discussed. Bring your soil reports and questions!

Oct. 29 – Making the Most of Soil Amendments and Plant Nutrient Deficiencies, with Mark Hutchinson and Dr. Mark Hutton, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Nutrient management for crop production can be difficult. Often material is either under applied, resulting in lower yields, or over applied, resulting in extra expenses and environmental issues. Nutrient management is all about the numbers. Bring your calculator and soil test to learn how to fine tune soil amendments to reduce expenses and environmental impact yet maintain economic yields. We will also discuss how to identify crop deficiencies.


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