Shiawassee River Conservation Tillage Project
Shiawassee Co., MI

Grantee: The Nature Conservancy
Basin Program Funds: $19,798
Non-federal Funds: $23,858
Project Duration: 07/2003 - 11/2005
Status: complete

Problem Statement
Sediment and runoff from cropland has been identified as a significant threat to the integrity of aquatic communities of the Shiawassee River. The use of conservation tillage on cropland significantly reduces soil erosion and surface water runoff. While conservation tillage systems have been adopted locally for soybeans, many farmers are reluctant to adopt conservation tillage, and in particular no till, for corn production. Chief among the concerns about conservation tillage is the potential for economic loss from reduced yields and the cost of equipment needed.

The Shiawassee River and its headwaters are a top conservation priority of the Michigan Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. The River has been identified as the best remaining example of a warm-water river system within the North Central Tillplain ecosystem. It is characterized as a lowland, clay lake plain river which is influenced primarily by surface water inputs. The Shiawassee exhibits high fish species diversity (more than 40 species), and is home to several endangered mussel species. Originating in northwestern Oakland County, the Shiawassee River flows in a northerly direction, draining approximately 742,400 acres (1,160 square miles) contained in Oakland, Genesee, Shiawassee, Midland, Gratiot, Livingston, and Saginaw Counties.

This program demonstrates the benefits of conservation tillage to producers operating within the State Road Drain and Six-Mile Creek sub-watersheds and targets producers who are currently using conventional fall tillage for their corn production. The program offers participating farmers two key benefits: (1) the agronomic expertise of a certified crop consultant who is knowledgeable of methods to successfully implement conservation tillage systems for corn production, and (2) financial risk protection against any economic loss on the enrolled conservation tillage corn acres during the conversion process. In addition, the program will partner with the Shiawassee County Conservation District to arrange the leasing of conservation tillage equipment at reduced rates. Participants will also be eligible for financial assistance towards the purchase of conservation tillage equipment of up to $3,000 per contract.

In March 2003 an informational meeting introduced the Risk Protection Program to local farmers. Program promotion and enrollment occurred throughout the 2003 growing season. Program enrollees had to agree to continue using conservation tillage on the enrolled acres for at least 3 years. Farmers who enroll in the program will work directly with a crop consultant to identify a high residue crop management system that is best suited to the farmerís resource base. The farmer will then adopt this system on roughly half the area of a large field, while continuing to use the conventional tillage practices on the other half. This side-by-side approach will assist the farmer in measuring the benefits of the conservation tillage system. Economic viability will be demonstrated by comparing the profitability between the conventional and conservation tillage portions of the field. Cost and return data will be collected through the Farming for Maximum Efficiency (MAX) software to evaluate the economic benefits of conservation tillage.

For the meeting in March 2003, invitations, program brochures, postcard reminders were sent to 160 farmers; 10 farmers attended. Additional meetings for farmers and area agribusiness representatives were held in September 2004 and March 2005. Project staff also attended a field day at the Ray Rawson farm in Rosebush, MI in August 2004, and the National No-Till Conference in Cincinnati, OH in February 2005. An annual subscription to No-Till Farmer magazine was purchased, and pertinent articles were shared with local producers. Several articles and press releases about the project were also prepared and distributed.

The project leased a Brillion Zone Commander in 2003 to help farmers with the transition to no-till and strip-till systems. As of the summer of 2005, the Zone Commander was used by area farmers to treat 468 acres of cropland. In addition to leasing, the project has provided financial assistance to 11 producers who purchased no-till equipment for the first time. We estimate that this program has brought an additional 4,000 new acres of no-till into the Shiawassee River watershed.

Interest among producers in the Risk Protection program picked up in 2005. We enrolled one producer during the 2004 crop year, and to date have added four new producers for the current 2005 crop year. Participating farmers are conducting side-by-side field trials to compare their conventional tillage practices with no-till. Currently, these side-by-side plots encompass 581 acres of cropland, with 290 acres dedicated to no-till (240 acres in corn, 47 acres in soybeans).

Annual tillage surveys have been conducted to measure conservation tillage adoption throughout the lower Shiawassee River watershed. Since 2002, we have observed a consistent increase in the adoption of conservation tillage in corn and soybeans. Biological and water quality monitoring have also been initiated at six locations along the lower Shiawassee River and its major tributaries. In 2004, a grant from the Michigan DEQ provided the funding necessary to conduct a paired watershed study on two ditch tributaries to the lower Shiawassee River that will help us to measure the long-term effectiveness of no-till practices and other agricultural best management practices in the watershed.

Contact: Mr. Kenneth Algozin, 989-723-9062


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