UVM Professor helps local farmers

One UVM professor is changing the way farming is done in Vermont through her research with local farmers.

Associate Professor Heather Darby and her team recently were awarded a $102,154 two-year grant from the Vermont Ecosystem Restoration program, according to UVM Extension.

The UVM Extension program is a 100-year-old program through which UVM helps local communities by providing research and education on agriculture and community leadership, according to UVM Extension’s website.

“We applied based on the work we have been doing in St. Albans Bay Area and addressed the needs of farmers there,” Darby said.

She has been implementing this type of system on several Vermont farms with a lot of success.

“With the grant, our goal is to work with more farmers in the state to show that this system works,” Darby said. “It will help save the environment, and help save farmers money.”

Her work is covering new techniques to deal with fall tillage. Fall tillage is the overturning the soil by digging it up.

“Currently, the most common practice for farmers is to plow fields in the fall,” she said.

Farmers dig up the soil before the winter so they can plant crops in the spring, she said. The problem with this process is the ground is exposed all winter long, which leads to loss of nutrients and soil.

Fall tillage is a universal problem for farmers; it reduces soil moisture and costs farmers fuel and labor according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Darby has been investigating new ways to protect the soil by implementing cover crops. Cover crops are crops planted to keep nutrients in the soil, and to prevent soil from being blown away during months when there would normally be nothing planted, according to UVM Extension.

“To do this, the ground must be covered in the winter months when it is at risk for runoff and erosion,” she said.
“It’s great to hear that soil care is being researched and advanced at UVM,” said junior Kara McGuire said. “The project sounds really neat and seems like it will have a great effect on the way we farm in Vermont.”