Soil Sampling

This time of year many farmers are thinking about harvest. It’s also a good time to evaluate crop performance versus input costs and consider adjustments you might want to make for next year.  Managing nutrients are one important factor to consider in optimizing plant and soil health.  Although nutrients come in many different forms they can sometimes be over applied and end up degrading water quality and hurting the bottom line of the business.  In other cases insufficient nutrients are available to carry the crop through and as a result diminished crop yields and/or quality also can impact the bottom line of the business.

Soil testing, nutrient management and cover crops are three tools that can help you make the most of your nutrient dollars while improving soil health and setting the stage for the improved crop performance for the next growing season.

Soil Testing… A routine soil test is a tool to help you manage the mineral nutrition of your growing plants. It is a quick and inexpensive way to check the levels of essential soil nutrients. You simply take a sample of your soil and send it to a lab for analysis.  Homeowners, farmers, and others often test soil from their gardens, yards, and fields. The soil tests indicate soil pH and the levels of nutrients that are available for plant growth.  A soil test lets you know whether you need to add more nutrients and how much lime and fertilizer, if any, to add. Test results provide information that can save you money and prevent water pollution.

Nutrient management… Nutrient Management is the science or practice of providing appropriate soil fertility sources to fields for crop and forage production. It consists of managing the amount, source, placement (method of application), and timing of plant nutrients and soil amendments. Nutrient Management is based upon Soils Testing. Soils Test results indicate the current fertility state of a given field. University recommendations based upon these results tell a producer approximately how much of each of the major plant nutrients are needed for optimum plant production.

Cover Crop…Think of cover crops not as the end of this growing season but the start of the next one. Cover crops can effectively reduce erosion, while increasing soil organic matter. However, most pertinent to this discussion is the fact that cover crops can also effectively scavenge any remaining soil nutrients before they are lost by leaching. With the high cost of inputs it becomes more important to find ways to conserve fertilizer and/or reduce the need for commercial fertilizers. Using cover crops enhances nutrient recycling by taking up nutrients that would otherwise leach out of the soil profile and potentially end up in the groundwater and local lakes and streams.

If you need soil test boxes, help in interpreting your soil results or cover crop recommendations please stop by the Somerset County NRCS office and ask to speak to Ron, Nick or Laura.

Local Dairy Farm Conserves Grassland Bird Habitat!

 Gerald and Dean Paine

Gerald and Dean Paine

In a first-time partnership effort, Paine Dairy Farm in Madison collaborated with the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District this summer to conserve approximately 30 acres of active hayland as grassland bird habitat.  Paine farm is run by Dean Paine, his wife, Juanita, and two sons Josh and Jacolby.  Dean worked alongside his farther, Gerald Paine, for many years before taking over the operation.  The farm was started by the widowed and gutsy Elsie Dunlap Stoutamyer as a homestead and sheep/lamb operation in 1920.  Elsie’s granddaughter, Virginia, and her new husband Gerald took over the farm in 1955, running it predominantly as a chicken broiler operation.  It was converted to a dairy farm in 1984.  Today the Paine farm encompasses over 200 acres, milks 100 cows and is steward for an additional 300 acres of land in the surrounding community.

In return for an incentive payment to help offset loss in forage quality, Dean consented to delay mowing on a particularly productive parcel of active bobolink habitat at the end of June.  This was a significant conservation effort, and resulted in the fledging of at least 30 bobolink youngsters. Bobolink family groups were up and about by the weekend of July 9th, gliding over the grassland, hunting for insects and making their joyous calls. In addition to hosting bobolinks, the field was likely nesting grounds for savannah and other sparrows.  Incentive funds were provided by the Davis Conservation Foundation for the Somerset County District’s Agricultural Allies program, an outreach and education project intended to encourage safe nesting habitat for grassland birds.

Recently fledged juvenile bobolink

Recently fledged juvenile bobolink

Bobolinks are a historic sight and sound each spring in the fields and meadows of Maine. In addition to being a delight to see and hear, bobolinks and other grassland birds are true agricultural allies to central Maine farmers as these birds consume large quantities of both insect pests and weed seeds each growing season.  Unfortunately, the population of these beneficial birds has been in a steady and precipitous decline since the 1960s, according to the State of the Birds 2014 ( report.  The bobolink appears on their Watchlist of bird species most in need of conservation action.  Here in Maine, the reason there is habitat for these birds at all is because of our agricultural landscape.  Unfortunately, however, most hayfields are cut at least once during the nesting timeframe (end of May – mid July), which results in total nestling mortality, a pattern that plays out across the northeast.

Paine’s delay in mowing was the key to survival for this large group of bobolink nestlings.  The willingness of the Paine family to work with the District on this issue was a tangible and significant benefit for the grassland birds of central Maine.

It is not only farmers who can help grassland birds, however.  “Everyone can have a hand in helping these birds”, says Laura Suomi-Lecker, Technical Director for Somerset County SWCD.  “If we as the general public could leave grass areas un-mowed until August 1st, including letting some lawn area ‘go natural’, we could help create non-competitive grasslands for birds, pollinators and other wildlife.”  Reducing manicured lawn in favor of meadow creation not only benefits wildlife, but it saves time, fuel and money for landowners, making it a true win-win situation.

We encourage people to contact the Somerset County SWCD (at 474-8324 x 3; ) to find out other ways that they can get involved with this critical conservation effort.

Bird Habitat Walk and Talk on June 17th in Thomaston

What could be better than watching and listening to birds?  How about learning about them at the same time?  If you agree, then here is your chance!

On Friday, June 7th, from 9 AM to 10 AM, in co-operation with the Georges River Land Trust, Laura Suomi-Lecker will be leading a Walk and Talk session in Thomaston.  She will talk about the wonders of bobolinks and other grassland birds.  She will do this while leading a tour through bobolink habitat where there are nesting bobolinks!

The walk will start and end at the parking lot of the Finnish Congregational Church in Thomaston.

For more information and directions, you can follow this link to the Georges River Land Trust page.

We hope to seen you there!

No-till Corn Planter Tune-up Clinic

April 22, 2016 10-Noon

Tim Hewitt’s Farm Shop

678 East River Road, Skowhegan ME.

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension along with the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District is pleased to offer a no-till corn planter tune up clinic on April 22nd in Skowhegan.

With many Maine dairy farmers reaping the environmental and economic benefits of switching to no-till corn planting, it is critical that the equipment used in these operations be properly maintained and adjusted. Rico Balzano, Agronomy Outreach Professional from the University of Vermont Extension and member of the Champlain Valley Crops team will lead the meeting. We will use Tim Hewitt’s no-till planter to facilitate the clinic. Tim’s shop is located on 678 East River Rd in Skowhegan.

No-till corn production, along with the use of cover crops in the fall has seen a lot of adoption over the past few years throughout the Northeast. This system of crop production provides a host of benefits to farms, including time and nutrient management, both contributing to overall cost savings and improved profitability. However, to be successful, the corn planter must be operated and maintained correctly. Come learn about how to set up a no-till planter and adjust them for optimal seed placement!

This workshop is free. For more information, contact the Waldo County Extension Office at 207-342-5971

Upcoming Woodland Owner Workshops

The Maine Forest Service and SWOAM are hosting the following two workshops that might be of interest to woodland owners.

Reviving and Managing “Wild” Apple Trees – Skowhegan

Saturday, February 20th from 10 a. to noon at the UMaine Extension Office in Skowhegan.

Many woodland owners in Maine have them, forgotten apple trees that are struggling to survive. Though many of these trees are of wild origin and may not be enjoyable to you or I for food there is a diverse amount of wildlife that welcome the chance for their apples!  So do you want to learn some tips on how to make these trees prosper? Then come to the Yankee Woodlot in Skowhegan on Saturday February 20th where apple tree enthusiast Joe Dembeck will provide a tour of recently rehabbed trees and discuss methods and tools used to manage them. Dress warm as we will venture outdoors for the event.

This is a free event and there is no need to pre-register.

Directions:  7 County Drive in Skowhegan, off the Back Road to Norridgewock, halfway between the Margaret Chase Smith Library and the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program office. Look for our sign by the road.

Any questions- Patty Cormier- 592-2238 or  This event is sponsored by the Somerset County SWCD, SWOAM and Maine Forest Service.

BMPs and Cement Alternatives for Your Woodland Trail or Road Crossings – Farmington

Join the UKV chapter of SWOAM on Thursday February 25th, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. for a presentation by Blaine Miller of Dirigo Timberlands on the new concrete arch culverts or concrete bridges that he designs as alternatives for the traditional corrugated metal culverts and wood bridges.  Tom Gilbert the new Water Quality Forester for the Maine Forest Service will also review the use of Best Management Practices.  Blaine started his concrete business in 2013 and has since been providing a longer lasting, more environmentally and cost efficient product for many landowners, large and small since.  Poorly designed culverts and bridges can cost and frustrate landowners as well as block the natural movement for fish and other aquatic wildlife.  Come hear what Blaine has to say.

The meeting will be held at the Farmington Town Office, 153 Farmington Falls Road (park in back, use back door) on Thursday February 25th from 6 to 8 p.m.  

This is open to anyone and free, no need to pre-register.  Any questions contact Patty Cormier at 592-2238, or


Voting Results from District Supervisor Elections

Based upon the ballots cast for the two open Somerset County SWCD supervisor positions, Gabe Clark was reelected for his fourth term and Ann Mefferd was elected to her first term. Their 3 year terms as supervisors begin January 1, 2016 and terminate December 31, 2018.

Congratulations to them both!


Gabe owns and operates Cold Spring Ranch in New Portland, 600 acres of pastures and woodlands, in an environmentally friendly manner raising the highest quality grass fed and grass finished beef.

Ann owns and operates One Drop Farm in Cornville which produces organically raised vegetables and seedlings. She is also co-owner of The Pick-up (CSA, Café, and Wholesale) located in Skowhegan.

Somerset County Local Work Group Meeting

Thursday December 17, 2015 at 1:30pm

Somerset County USDA Service Center

 70 East Madison Road, Skowhegan ME  04976

The meeting will be hosted by the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District. The public is encouraged to attend.

The Local Working Group is composed of those interested in agriculture, private forests, wetlands, and wildlife within Somerset County. The group provides information, assistance, and recommendations to the District Conservationist of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on local natural resource priorities and criteria for matters relating to the implementation and technical aspects of conservation programs funded under the USDA Farm Bill.

On behalf of the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors, we hope you will be able to attend this meeting.

 Call (207) 474-8324 ext.3 with questions or for more information

Supervisor Nominations and Election


Somerset County Soil & Water Conservation District


 Persons desiring to run for the office of District Supervisor for the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District should contact the District office at 70 East Madison Road, Skowhegan ME 04976, telephone (207) 474-8324 x180, to obtain nomination papers. Nomination papers must be received at the District office no later than October 30, 2015. Persons wishing to vote in the election of District Supervisor must contact the District in order to receive a ballot.

 Persons who desire to run for office of Supervisor must be a resident registered voter residing within the boundaries of the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District. All registered voters within the boundaries of the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District are eligible to vote. Additional information may be obtained by contacting the District.