ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. -- After a half century of farming, Ray Styers is finally seen as an innovator.
“I was probably considered strange from the day I got here,” said Ray, with a chuckle.
He and his wife, Sara, have had a dairy farm in the southern end of Rockingham County for more years than they can count. What set Ray apart was he was one of the few farmers in the area who started doing no-till farming back in the 1960s. That meant he didn’t plow up his fields each spring and spray them with weed killer. Instead, he would plant cover and aeration crops into land and without taking those plants out of the soil; he would add his crops that he would later harvest to feed his cattle in the same fields.
“Even when everybody around was not doing those things, Ray did them and now we see, 20 and 30 years down the road, it’s paying off,” said Jason Byrd, a soil and water conservationist with Rockingham County.
What Ray’s method has done is feed the soil for 50 years, making it better than when he started farming that land.
“I can’t even put a percentage on how much better,” Byrd said. “It’s amazing.”
And, in some folks' eyes, it would be a shame to lose this land.
“The next 50 years, we’re going to determine what North Carolina is going to look like, forever,” said Kevin Redding, of the Piedmont Land Conservancy. They are a group that helps farmers not have to sell their land for development. For many farmers, their land is, essentially, their 401(k). If they don’t sell it when they retire, they don’t have what they need to live on. The Land Conservancy can change that – and the need, says Redding, is there.
“Several years ago, North Carolina lead the nation in the loss of farmland on an annual basis because we’re developing so rapidly and the easiest place to develop is a farm because it’s already cleared,” he said.
But not Ray Styers land.
“There may be hops growing out here, there may be tomatoes – we don’t know. But if there are 40 houses on this property, there isn’t anything that’s going to be growing, here,” Redding said.
Meet Ray and Sara and see how they practice no-till farming in this edition of the Buckley Report.