Indiana Agriculture Well-Positioned to Deal with Climate Change

Mike Strkey
Mike Strkey

This week, the White House honored 12 farmers who are using a variety of methods to produce food more sustainably. None of the 12 were from Indiana, but the Hoosier State has been leading the way on sustainability long before it was politically correct. At a White House ceremony honoring the 12 Champions of Change, Secretary of  of Agriculture Tom Vilsack praised efforts being made by farmers to deal with climate change and challenged all of agriculture to do more, “This will require a greater commitment to soil health and soil conservation, a concerted effort on cover crops and nutrient management.” These are all things that Indiana agriculture has been working on for decades.

Mike Starkey, President of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, says Indiana pioneered the conservation partnership and has a system in place that is advancing new, more sustainable, farming methods, “We are learning from each other, from other farmers, what works and what does not work.” He told HAT the use of conservation tillage and cover crops continues to grow in Indiana.

Indiana farmers are already seeing the effects of climate change and are using new technology and new practices to maintain productivity while continuing to protect the environment. The drought of 2012 and the floods of 2015 provided some very strong examples of how reduced tillage techniques and cover crops can improve soil health and increase water management of the soils. Starkey says growers will have to continue to make changes to adapt to the changing climate and economic conditions they will be facing in the future, “In my opinion, we have to change if we want to keep farming.”

When the President travels to France next month for an international climate change confab, there will be lots of talk about rules and regulations. Starkey said the work that the Indiana conservation partnership is doing today will help producers better adapt to what may be coming in the future, “When those regulations come, we will be ahead of the curve and not have to make overnight changes.”

The farmers honored at the high profile White House event were:

-Anita Adalja, the farm manager at Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, based in Washington, DC

-William “Buddy” Allen, a producer in Tunica, Mississippi, and a member of the Macon Edwards Company, a Washington DC-based consulting firm.

-Keith Berns, a co-owner and operator of Providence Farms – a 2,000-acre diversified family-farming operation in Bladen, Nebraska – and Green Cover Seed, one of the nation’s leading providers of cover-crop information and seed.

-Larry Cundall, a Vietnam War veteran and fourth-generation rancher from Glendo, Wyoming.

-Herman “Trey” Hill, the partner and manager of Harborview Farms in Rock Hall, Maryland, within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

-Loretta Jaus, the operator of a 410-acre, rotationally-grazed, 60-cow dairy farm in Gibbon, Minnesota.

-Martin Kleinschmit, the owner of an organic farm in Hartington, Nebraska, that produces grains and raises grass-finished cattle on annual and permanent pastures.

-Jennifer “Jiff” Martin, an associate educator for sustainable food systems with the University of Connecticut Extension.

-Jesus Sanchez, the manager of Sano Farms – a diversified tomato, almond, wheat, garbanzo, and garlic farm spanning 4,000 acres in Firebaugh, California.

-Erin Fitzgerald Sexson, senior vice president of global sustainability for the Innovation Center for US Dairy, a dairy community forum that works together pre-competitively to foster research and innovation in farm-to-table sustainability. Sexson is based in Rosemont, Illinois.

-Timothy Smith, a fourth-generation farmer who raises soybeans, corn, and cover crops on his family’s Century Farm in Wright County, Iowa.

-Donald Tyler, a soil management researcher in the Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science Department at the University of Tennessee.

To further honor the honorees and their work in sustainable agriculture, cover crops will be planted in the White House Kitchen Garden next week, to “improve soil quality, reduce erosion, and increase soil carbon.”