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Protecting resources through conservation

PROTECTING RESOURCES through conservation

STORIES AND PHOTOS BY SALLY COLBY | “IN THE LAST TWENTY YEARS, THERE’S MORE GREEN COUNTRYSIDE OVER THE WINTER THAN EVER BEFORE,” SAYS GLEN KRALL. “WHOLE FARMS ARE GREEN NOW.”

Glen and Linda Krall, who farm in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, are part of the reason for the green countryside. These experienced crop farmers have been farming since 1983, and currently grow crops on 800 acres and custom farm 300 additional acres. Their crops provide feed for the cattle on their son’s dairy farm.

From the start of their crop farming enterprise, Glen and Linda have engaged in a variety of conservation measures. The Kralls’ main focus is close to the Snitz Creek, which feeds into the Swatara Creek, to the Susquehanna River, and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay. Proximity to these bodies of water require carefully planned conservation projects and attention to farming practices.

The Kralls’ early conservation projects, including stream bank fencing and the first manure storage projects, were done through the county conservation district. Their more recent projects are through EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program).

As part of their nutrient program for crops, the Kralls use dairy manure from their son’s farm and imported poultry manure, and test both types for nutrient content prior to application. The Kralls also test the soil to ensure nutrients are applied at the appropriate rate. Instead of applying nitrogen at the beginning of the growing season and risk losing it in rain, they sidedress corn with liquid nitrogen in late June.

To preserve the nutrients in stored poultry manure, Glen and Linda constructed a covered hoop building, and plan to construct a similar structure at their son’s dairy farm for solid manure storage. Liquid storage for dairy manure allows spreading for optimum crop uptake.

Another aspect of the Kralls’ conservation practices is the use of cover crops. After corn silage is harvested, they apply manure and plant rye. In spring, some rye is chopped for ryelage, and the rest is burned down prior to planting corn and soybeans. The Kralls practice both no-till and minimum till on their operation, with some minimal light disking when necessary to knock down cornstalks. They also combine their own rye for seed. 

As Glen and Linda finished the 2019 harvest, they were thinking about what to plant next spring.

“When we’re in the fields, we can see what we’re combining,” says Linda. “When I get to a crop that’s really doing well, I make a note of that for future seed purchases.” Glen says that seed salesmen are out visiting farmers before harvest is complete, and he and Linda have an idea of the seed they want for 2020 based on the just-completed harvest. The Kralls select about ten different corn varieties, some for corn and some for silage.

The Kralls host Penn State variety trials on their farm, which means county extension personnel visit the farm regularly to check the crops’ progress. The information gathered is useful for both Glen and Linda , as well as other farmers.

As is the case for farmers every season, the Kralls faced challenges, including weather and field conditions during planting and harvest. Linda recalls that when conditions were less than ideal this past spring, they knew they had to get in the fields as soon as possible and not wait for perfect weather.

Because last year was so wet, Glen pushed harder to get crops in the ground this year. “Last year we started, then all the rain and wet weather came,” he says. “There was a 50-bushel difference in the corn from the first to last planted.”

Both Glen and Linda are formidable competitors in crop contests, including the Pennsylvania Five-Acre Corn Club. The contest requires them to designate acreage in July and provide information about seed variety, fertilizers and other treatments.

Glen has served two terms as a board member on the Lebanon County Conservation District, helping to oversee policies and approve conservation and nutrient management plans.

The Kralls maintain the equipment necessary to carry out each phase of growing a crop. They use a no-till corn planter and a new no-till air drill, and plan to replace their combine soon.

“The technology in equipment today is different compared to a few years ago,” says Linda. “It can tell you which parts of fields are producing better, then tell you how much fertilizer it needs.” And although they don’t have the absolute latest in technology, Linda predicts that technology will be one of their next investments to help them keep producing better every year.