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WEST GROVE, Pa. — When Darryl King started crop farming, he was all about chiseling his Chester County soil with a disc and mouldboard plow. But when he saw the yield data from his mentor, Jay Hicks, compared to his, King knew it was time for a change.“Jay had always been no-till farming, and being able to compare our two neighboring operations side by side gave us both the truth,” King said. “It didn’t take me long to say this is bogus. I’m out, I am going to do no-till farming, I’ll do it. I repent.”King admits he thought that switching his management from conventional tillage to no-till would not only improve his yields, but also be an instant fix to his growing erosion problems.“I thought we would never have erosion ever again, and that was wrong,” King said.King tried solving recurring soil loss issues on his 220-acre farm, Manor Hill, through importing soil from nearby excavators, but that wasn’t enough. Erosion was still happening.“There’s nothing worse than putting out the right amount of fertilizer, doing a great job, preparing, picking the right seed, growing the right crop, keeping after the pest management and then watching it get washed downstream because of mismanagement,” he said.King’s soil needed more support, which is when he reached out to his county’s conservation district — including his wife Pam, who works as an agricultural technician for the district — and began experimenting with cover crops.
Darryl King holding his shop cat, Charlie, stands by one of his favorite equipment investments, a Esch 5512 no-till drill. King takes his cover crop planting a step farther by setting the goal of planting his small grains 24 hours after harvesting his corn and soybean fields.
“I was like, all right, I need some help. I can’t fix this by just being no-till and instantaneously thinking everything will be magically better,” King said.King walked his fields with his wife and an excavator. Together, they pinpointed areas that needed waterways or trenches to ease runoff from fields. He also planted barley as a cover crop.It was enough of a success that King tried his hand at cover cropping again. He planted barley again, but the result was much different because cold weather came early. The barley went into dormancy, slowing its growth and pushing the usual summer harvest into the following fall.Not to be discouraged, King switched to planting wheat. Like a researcher, King experimented with different wheat varieties for their yield potential.“I think there are many benefits to being open and trying different varieties, along with working with different seed sale guys. The only way any of us learn anything is by trying something new. So for me I am trying to see if I can find a new variety that is a slam dunk for yield,” King said.Another factor King takes into consideration when shopping for a wheat variety is what it will look like as straw. His straw customers are more willing to spend the money on golden and clean straw than brown-colored bales, he said.King has also taken his cover cropping system a step further. His goal is to have his corn and soybeans fields replanted with a small grain cover crop within 24 hours of being harvested.This means King is cutting up the corn and bean fodder with a rotary mower before planting seeds with his green Esch 5512 no-till drill. He believes that the sooner he can get his small grains planted, the more productive they will be through the winter.“If I goof off and don’t plant that cover crop, you can’t guarantee that the same soil organic matter or fertilizer availability is all going to be there in two or three weeks, especially if we keep having all these crazy rainstorms,” King said. “From the agronomy and financial standpoint, I don’t want to lose what I already have, you know, so that’s why we hustle and push so hard.”While cover crops have been beneficial to King’s system, he admits that the battle against the rains is far from over.“I spend a lot of time in a rain suit,” he said.King runs with his cellphone in hand, dodging raindrops to capture real-time photos and video of the rushing streams of water passing through his fields and waterways. He often asks himself, where is this water coming from? What is it doing? And where does it want to go?He’ll save his photos and videos to share with his wife, conservation district staff and his excavator. King believes his method helps the experts figure out how to ease the runoff and erosion on his farm.King spends a lot of his time doing “dirt management,” as he calls it, which means he is clearing sediment that has flowed from upstream neighboring farms onto his fields’ waterways. He uses a shovel and a skid loader to free up the water’s path before the next big storm comes.“I realize I can’t sit here in my little slice of heaven and let it be what it is,” King said. “I need to go out and talk to some neighbors and show them what’s going on, give them some advice and try to point them in the right direction in talking with the right people.”King has been working with fellow younger farmers to get them set up with no-till farming and cover crops. King said that he and Hicks work together, giving advice or helping farmers find equipment.“Everybody wants to buy more land or tractors. But spending money on conservation practices is definitely one of the best buys you can do for a farm property,” he said.It’s King’s drive to create a sense of community for other farmers and his passion for cover cropping that led the Chester County Ag Land Preservation Board and the county Ag Council to name him the Chester County Farmer of the Year.Marian Moskowitz, chairwoman of the board of commissioners, presented King with the award on Oct. 14 at his farm.“When you meet Darryl, you see that his inclination to work with and mentor other young farmers isn’t just a part of his business model. It’s his philosophy and way of life,” Moskowitz said in a press release. “It’s inspiring to hear of young entrepreneurs like Darryl who take the time to build up their communities and share the knowledge with their peers.”King said he was happy but truly surprised to receive the honor.“It was nice in the sense that little guys can do it, too, you know? I mean, here I am a young dude that is probably just a drop in a bucket in terms of the county’s agricultural economy and everything,” King said. “It gave me a lot of warm feeling to know that someone believes I’m doing something good here.”
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