Friday, July 1, 2011

How Now Keyline Plow

The plow shanks run below the surface slicing through the soil.
Field Report from the June 9 Keyline Plow Event hosted by Lyle & Kitty Edwards:

Our workshop occurred on the first sunny day in weeks and understandably was lightly attended by farmers.  It was a perfect opportunity for our project team to check out the site, oversee a new round of plowing (this is Year 2 of the project), talk with our host farmers about their observations so far, and have a little professional development around the concepts of keyline plowing and set up.

You can learn more about the keyline project and how we are testing ways to address pasture compaction through plowing and the use of tillage radishes at the VPN web site.
Up close: the shanks leave a small opening.

Extension Agronomist Sid Bosworth describing grass structure.
Project coordinator Rachel Gilker and host farmer Lyle Edwards .
Keyline plowing uses a subsoil plow method with a very flat plow shank (about 8%) to slice through the soil and create channels below the surface.  These channels help break up soil compaction, create a place for new roots to grow with less effort and direct water more easily.  While most of the participating farmers are not testing the plow for its water-directing capabilities, they've observed changes in water movement anyway.  

In the course of our visit, the group was able to check out the plow lines from last year.  The cuts were completely sealed and mostly indetectable. 

Our partner and Keyline plow owner/operator Mark Krawczyk showed us how he sites the original line using a laser level over the transition point of the land where it moves from convex to concave.  This is the key line. 
Once the first line is flagged and plowed, Mark travels the same line (often a curving trail) in parallel passes.  This year's plowing will be at a deeper level than last year's.  Typically, the first application is at a shallower depth to start breaking up compaction and then following applications can go deeper without burning out the tractor.
Lyle Edwards describing his observations.

While Mark continued the plowing, our group went on to look at the pastures and refresh ourselves on pasture plant ID with Extension Agronomists Sid Bosworth and Dan Hudson. 

The plow has containers to spread seed into the plow cuts.
A great day.  UVM graduate student Bridget Jamison is working with the UVM Plant & Soil Science Department to study the changes in soil structure, density and carbon sequestration through the project.  We'll be sure to share results as soon as there are some to report.  In the meantime, plan now to attend the pasture event August 10 at Guy Choiniere's farm to learn more about his results with the keyline plow, as well as how he's feeding small grains from the farm, and managing manure through a bedded pack barn.

Here are a few more photos to complete the day.  Is it wrong to hope for rain next time?


 Agronomist Dan Hudson and grad student Bridget Jamison.
The lovely Kitty Edwards.

Once the key line is determined, new cuts are parallel.
A roller has now been added to the back of the plow.
Final stop: a quick visit to the Butterworks Farm Jersey calves!

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