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GREAT SALT LAKE COLLABORATIVE

Utah farmer plants differently to save soil moisture during historic drought

May 12, 2022, 12:12 PM

Corn crop (KSL TV file photo)...

Corn crop (KSL TV file photo)

(KSL TV file photo)

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake—and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org

BOX ELDER COUNTY, Utah — A Utah farmer says he planted his corn crop differently this year as a way to preserve soil moisture during Utah’s historic drought.

“I love working with the soil, I love improving it, I love coming up with new and innovative ways to take on these challenges,” said Joel Ferry, a fifth-generation farmer.

For the past four years, Ferry has been trying out a new way to prepare the soil for planting his 200 acres of corn.

Instead of tilling and turning over his entire field, he tills in strips — leaving pieces untouched, still covered by last year’s nutrients.

“You can see there is a bunch of lead material, and what that does is it protects that from the sun in the springtime so the ground stays wetter because it’s shaded,” Ferry said. “And so when we go and plant, we already have the moisture there to get the seed started.”

He says every drop of water makes a difference, and this soil is still moist from rainstorms in October.

“Maybe it will save me one irrigation cycle, which is four inches of water, and I do that over 1,000 acres,” Ferry said. “That’s a lot of water.”

It also saves them the cost of gas and labor tilling the ground, which on a year like this shows how sensitive farming is to price increases, Ferry said.

Even the Ukrainian conflict has caused a shift in the global market favoring farmers selling their harvest.

“Right now, prices are extremely high and we’ve got to take advantage of that. But in our way, we’ve got to help solve that global problem,” Ferry said.

And the global solution for preserving crops? Rain.

“If we were to get a half an inch of rain tomorrow?” Ferry said, “We call it a million-dollar storm because it makes that much of a difference to the crop production.”

And that moisture, Ferry hopes, helps to allow his family farm to stick around for another generation.

“I do take pride in what I do. I love being able to feed Utah,” he said.

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Utah farmer plants differently to save soil moisture during historic drought