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About 40 crop producers from Millard County spent last Wednesday learning how to improve the soil on their farms. 

The producers gleaned information from a pair of experts in a classroom setting at the Millard County Fair Building in Delta. Then, they boarded a school bus to visit the farms of Paul McCollaum and Chance Lyman who have used some of the practices the past two years. 

Lyman is a Delta Conservation District board member and was the main host for the event. 

He enjoys the farming lifestyle and would like to keep his children in the area as they grow up. To do that he will need to keep his operation profitable. 

“If I don’t begin to apply these (soil health) principles I’m not going to be in business to keep my children here,” Lyman said. “Following soil health principles I have found a way to reduce my negative influence on the ground. It’s challenging. Some of these things haven’t ever been used out here.” 

Four main points provided by the experts to enhance the soil of fields were to provide continuous roots, maximize biodiversity, minimize disturbance and maximize soil cover. 

Too much tilling and toying with depleted topsoil can lead to compaction that inhibits the amount of water to the plants. 

Lyman feeds his herd of cows in certain locations to distribute the manure. “It’s cost-effective if I move my cattle versus spreading manure,” he said. 

McCollaum said he has planted cover crops the past two years and has seen mixed results. 

Utah State University Extension Soils Specialist Grant Cardon told the group that soil is a living, breathing tissue. He said topsoil is more organic than sub soils. “Topsoil can take 500 plus years to develop,” Cardon said. 

He said loamy soil is the best, but soils can be amended with organic material. That process is known as tilth. 

Cardon said people could help change soils naturally. Some of the practices in the past have been good and some bad. All the factors are interrelated. 

Neils Hansen, agronomist with USU, also spoke to the group. 

“It amazes me when I come out to Delta. You guys can farm!” Hansen said. “You’re growing things on an old lakebed that has been a desert for many thousands of years. It doesn’t have much organic matter. I have to take my hat off to you because you are creating something that has never been there before.” 

Hansen said farmers should reduce tillage as much as they can. 

“We love the idea of cover crops, eight to ten types of cover crops. We love cover crops because it increases organic matter, increases water infiltration, increases earthworms,” he said. 

Lyman was pleased with the soil health workshop and field trip. 

“If producers in the area start using soil health principles now, they will see major improvement and quality in the soil the next five years,” he said.