At a recent conservation-tillage tour, several Virginia farmers answered media questions as to their experiences and some of their successes with long-term conservation-tillage practices.

The topic was conservation-tillage, but ultimately the conversation got around to what’s the No. 1 topic on the minds of many Virginia farmers — the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

Question one: How did you decide which conservation-tillage practices work best on your farm from both an environmental and economic perspective?

John Mills, a grain farmer from Hannover, Va., says, “We farm right on the Pawmunky River and have numerous streams that run through the farm, and we have a cattle operation in addition to our grain operation. Those are some of the reasons we got into conservation-tillage many years back.”

Mills recalls a hurricane that came through their area of north-central Virginia and dumped 14 inches of rain on his farm in three hours. Cleaning up the land after the storm required some assistance from the Soil and Water Conservation Service.

“We have now started a mitigation bank on our farm operation, selling stream credits and wetland credits. When a contractor takes one acre out of wetlands, they have to replace each acre with two acres — that’s our primary market for these credits,” Mills explains.

Charles County, Va., grower Archer Ruffin says economics, pure and simple, got him interested in no-till. “We watched our neighbors and saw what some of their challenges with no-till and learned from their experience.

“We’ve been using conservation-tillage for eight years, and I don’t think we have nearly reached the potential it can mean economically. Things like nitrogen injection based on Greenseeker information has the potential to make us much more efficient,” Ruffin says.

Eric Randolph, who also farms near Charles City, Va., says, “I came back to the farm from college in 1995, and for me to fit in we had to expand our family farming operation.

“At that time we needed to add some equipment and to upgrade some of our other equipment. With more acreage, we had a need to cover more land in a shorter period of time, and no-till was the best way from an economic standpoint.”

Question two: It appears that farmers will be asked to do more to help cleanup the Chesapeake Bay — how can you do ‘more’ than you are already doing to meet some of these federal regulations that seem to be headed our way in Virginia?

John Mills says, “From our perspective, it’s hard to know what’s coming next with technology. After a year like 2010, drought tolerant varieties will allow us to do some different things.

“This year we used a swath control that turns itself on and off and prevents us from over-using fertilizer, pesticides, even seed. Every time we place seed more precisely and provide more precise amounts of nutrients we are helping clean up the environment and we are helping ourselves be more profitable,” Mills says.