Hunterdon County Soil Conservation District
Stockton, New Jersey
Christian Bench, an agriculture specialist with the North Jersey Resource Conservation & Development Council (RC&D) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), runs a 350-acre operation with his wife and son. On their operation, they raise beef cattle and sheep, as well as produce equine hay.
Bench is a pioneer for soil health in his area. For more than five years, he has been practicing no-till, utilizing cover crops, and managing residue. He has planted riparian buffers in all his pastures. Utilizing the planting green technique, Bench incorporates his cover crops on fields that are in corn and small grain cropping rotations.
“Regenerative agriculture is on the horizon at our farm,” Bench said. He knows that incorporating livestock on his cropland is necessary to achieve this, so he is working on having his cattle graze his cover crops.
The planting green technique, which works well in his region, has allowed him to utilize his cover crops to their fullest extent, gathering all the benefits he can from them. “Planting green has presented some challenges, but the benefits have outweighed the mistakes,” Bench said. The technique has also helped him prevent slug damage, a common challenge in his area.
Bench’s soil health practices have provided many benefits. He has seen his water infiltration improve and microbial activity increase. His soil organic matter has also improved, but at a much quicker rate than he anticipated. Soil erosion, another common challenge due to the large amount of highly erodible land in his region, has been minimized.
Bench hopes that other farmers begin to utilize these practices. “Cover cropping and no-till are more important than ever, as we are experiencing much more powerful weather events and historical rainfalls during peak planting and harvesting times,” he said.
Updated September 2019.