New figures from the Indiana Conservation Partnership show that conservation tillage and cover crops are being used by more and more Indiana farmers, with some impressive results. According to the annual spring tillage survey, in 2015 Indiana farmers saved 32 millions tons of top soil by using a variety of reduced tillage methods. In addition, the survey showed the use of cover crops in Indiana continues to increase rapidly. State Conservationist Jane Hardisty said over 933,000 acres of Indiana farmland were planted to cover crops this year, due in large part to the flooding we saw this year, “We had farmers walk in our door that we had never seen before. They had washed out spots in their field and wanted to get something growing, so they decided to give cover crops a try.”
She told HAT, while the crop loss from the heavy rains was unfortunate, it did provide an excellent example of the benefits of cover crops and a conservation cropping system, “We had fields across the road from each other that had both been hit with heavy rain. The crops in the fields that had been planted with cover crops last fall looked a lot better than those that had not.” She added that this fall farmers are seeing how much better their yields are from fields with cover crops and conservation tillage systems.
Hardesty says it is not just tillage and not just cover crops, but finding a system that works on an individual farm to improve soil health, reduce inputs, and boost yields. The thin profit margins this year are also giving farmers a reason to consider conservation tillage and cover crops. “They can save on fertilizer use and cut the number of trips across a field,” said Hardisty. “It is all coming together and growers are beginning to realize the benefits of a complete system of conservation.”
Hardisty said Indiana leads the Midwest in the adoption of cover crops. “These numbers confirm that Indiana is a national leader in acres of cover crops planted,” said Ted McKinney, Director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA). “Our farmers were some of the first in the country to discover the economic and water quality benefits of soil health conservation practices such as cover crops. With the record breaking rainfall this past summer, cover crops have proven a valuable tool for managing floodwater, protecting the soil, and keeping sediment and nutrients out of our water.”
Another survey will be taken this fall to monitor the level of fall tillage vs. planting cover crops. No-till farming methods can reduce soil erosion by 75 percent when compared to a conventional (chisel-disk) tillage system, and is a critical component to improve soil organic matter and soil health. “With the increase in demand for Indiana’s row crop production and the reports on agriculture’s role in the Gulf hypoxia and Great Lakes issues, it make sense for us to continue to observe, track, and tell the stories of the good things our farmers are doing,” said Hardisty.
Tillage transect reports dating back to 1990 can be found here. To learn more about the tillage transect for your county, visit https://www.in.gov/isda/2370.htm# to find your local Soil and Water Conservation District.