Pilot soil conservation project comes to Lyon, Caldwell counties

Farmers in Lyon, Caldwell, and northern Trigg counties are collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a soil conservation pilot project in the Eddy Creek watershed. Besides farming, it also affects water recreation and real estate. Here, Houston Flying Service of Owensboro distributes seed from Thomas Cayce Farm Supply of Princeton over Murphy Farms in Lyon County. Watching it all is 10-year-old Clay Murphy, whose grandfather, Rod Murphy, played a key role in facilitating the massive project.

Farmers in Caldwell, Lyon, and northern Trigg counties are working through a soil conservation pilot project to ensure that the 27,622 acres of cropland they farm will last.

In turn, that affects the entire 47,811 acres that comprise the Eddy Creek watershed. Besides agriculture, the project directly and significantly affects the region’s water recreation and real estate industries and ultimately its entire economy and lifestyle.

“I listened to Greg Stone at the state convention give a little talk last July and I thought about Eddy Bay,” Rod Murphy said. A farmer, he has served on both the Lyon County and state conservation boards. “Eddy Bay will have a plume of mud come down in it, once we have a big rain event. It will go all the way to the river and in a couple of days that mud will show up.”

“You can see it,” agreed Arthur Dunn, who serves as technician for the Caldwell and Lyon County Conservation District. “You drive down and there’s a distinctive line, where water is brown on one side and still mostly clear on the other. After a few days, when all the settlement comes down, all the water in the bay takes on a brownish look. Then, after a period of time, that clears out.”

Murphy was encouraged because he realized that as state conservationist, Stone’s influence could ensure the project’s approval, financial support, and success.

Dunn said Eddy Creek watershed starts at Big Springs, within Princeton’s city limits. Ky. Highway 91 North at Caldwell County High School is the farthest point flowing into Eddy Creek. Then, down Hopkinsville Road is Bald Knob, three miles east of Princeton. One could draw a line at Blackhawk, at the corner of Caldwell, Trigg, and Lyon counties. It barely would extend into Trigg County, cut back to Lamasco and then extend to Eddy Creek Bay. Back to the high school, it goes west to Pro Collision Body Shop on U.S. Highway 62, then straight south, before curving slightly southwest.

The key to succeeding is addressing the 27,622 acres of cropland, especially if it is not covered in the winter. In contrast, timberland’s natural cover makes erosion far less common.

“What can we do to make a difference in the crop acres?” Dunn said. “That’s how we developed the cover crop project. We’ve worked on it, improving the soil health by applying cover crops during the winter months, when nothing else is growing on the ground. The downside is the cost of the seed and equipment to put the seed in the ground, along with the time the farmer, landowner, or tenant must take to plant that seed, without any financial return from it.”

Cover crops include grasses, especially the very effective cereal rye and wheat. Diakon radishes and turnips help, as do winter peas and crimson and clover. “Usually, turnips are added into a mix with grasses,” Dunn said. “That attracts earthworms, which are important to soil health.”

Row crop farmers normally rotate crops each year. “That’s to control disease problems and to increase fertility,” Dunn said. “The soybeans are adding nitrogen to the soil. The next year, the corn uses some of that nitrogen stored in the soil from the soybeans. That’s an economic factor farmers take into consideration.”

This year, the Eddy Creek project obtained approval for some 9,680 acres. The funding went to approximately 40 farmers who applied for the Environmental Quality Improvement Program. They submitted the number of acres they’d use to apply a cover crop. When harvest season begins, farmers can choose to drill it, broadcast it, or distribute it through aerial seeding.

“Besides farmers, the project is designed to prevent more soil from washing into the waterways,” Dunn said. “That affects everybody, so it’s for more than just farms. It’s anything that affects soil disturbance: homeowners, landowners, farmers, golf courses, road construction.”

Mike Clayton is the Natural Resource and Conservation Service district conservationist for Caldwell and Lyon counties, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said the largest portion of land in this project is in Caldwell County, followed by Lyon County. Northern Trigg County has the smallest section.

“Soil erosion is a problem (throughout the project’s region), whether it be from cropland or urban development,” he said. “If we’re successful — and it looks like we’re going to be — we’re going to try to make this program available next year as well.”

Clayton concluded, “Most farmers practice voluntary conservation. That’s what we want people to do — to adopt these things. When there is no federal assistance in the future, these things will be part of the normal farming operations. We just hope that this is another way to better the environment for all people involved.”