Last fall a survey was taken to determine how many Hoosier farmers planted cover crops on their fields. State Conservationist Jane Hardisty says the results were surprising, “According to the data, over 1.1 million acres of cover crops were planted in 2015, which is an increase of nearly 10 percent compared to the previous year and 225 times more coverage over the past decade.”
Hardisty told HAT the extreme weather conditions of the past two years have demonstrated to producers the value of cover crops and reduced tillage, “We have fields across the road from each other, one with cover crops and no-till and the other with convention tillage. Farmers have seen for themselves the difference in yields in these extreme conditions. The yields on the cover crop fields far exceeded those on the conventionally tilled fields. This has sent a strong message to producers.”
Hoosier farmers also continued the trend of plowing less and using sound conservation practices that preserve valuable topsoil, according to the 2015 data. Not plowing the soil is a critical component to improving soil health and can reduce soil erosion by 75 percent when compared to a conventional tillage system. The results show that 55 percent of Indiana’s harvested cropland was left undisturbed during the winter months.
Not only is Indiana leading the nation in the adoption of cover crops, the data that is being collecting is also unique and serves as an example to other states on what can be done. “We introduced the cover crop assessment to the survey in 2011 so that we could better tell the story of Indiana’s conservation efforts,” said Hardisty. “Cover crops protect soil from extreme weather and retain valuable nutrients in fields during winter months, playing a key role in soil health. With more farmers implementing this practice, the 2015 survey results prove why Indiana continues to be a national leader in soil health.”
Hardisty says the adoption of precision farming and the tight economic times are encouraging producers to make changes in their operations to reduce expenses and improve yields, “Farmers are changing the way they operate; they are changing their management and their equipment. We find that the farmers that are including conservation decisions in their planning are the ones who are getting more output with less inputs.”
“When our farmers apply sound conservation practices, it’s good for the soil, contributes to improved water quality and good for the future of agriculture,” said Ted McKinney, Director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA). “These survey results not only indicate that more farmers are implementing these types of practices, which means that soil health is improving, but also that Indiana has a conservation model that works and continues to garner national attention.”
The results are improved soil health and a reduction of the environmental impact of a farming operation. To learn more about Indiana’s conservation efforts, please visit icp.iaswcd.org. Or to find the tillage transect for your county, contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District office by visiting www.in.gov/isda/2370.htm. Additionally, ISDA maintains tillage transect reports dating back to 1990 on its website www.in.gov/isda/2383.htm which also includes the most recent transect results.