Indiana farmer Brent Bible practiced no-till farming and the use of cover crops on his fields in Tippecanoe and Montgomery Counties, but last year he decided to learn even more about cover crops and joined the Soil Health Partnership. He treated the move as an educational opportunity.
“We don’t have a lot of experience or a lot of knowledge regarding soil and health and what kind of management practices can impact that, positively or negatively. So we want to understand that a little bit better. We want to learn from some of those who have been involved in that arena for a longer period of time and look at what type of concentration in terms of management practices we might be able to do that might impact that and see a scientific or economic result from those.”
Bible says for him the initial stages of SHP were learning how to learn.
“What I mean by that is we’re learning who the right people are, who the people are to go to and ask questions of and who the good resources are. In our case we’re concentrating on cover crop management practices. Who are some of those people you might look at as experts in that field, and understanding where we can go for that source of information. I think we’ve been very successful in building some of that network and opening some of those communication lines. We’ll build upon that as the partnership goes on through the next few years.”
He told HAT this is a long term effort in which they are looking for long term results and solutions over the next 5-20 years.
Bible and other Soil Health Partnership demonstration network farmers will be sharing ideas with other producers throughout the Midwest during soil health field days from August through the end of the year.
The field days will demonstrate how changing certain practices can create lasting environmental benefits while potentially increasing farm productivity and income. Examples of educational topics include:
- Cover crop benefits and integration into local cropping systems;
- Nutrient management and other strategies to improve soil health;
- Hands-on soil demonstrations; and
- Farmer panels to discuss local experiences with cover crops.
Cover crops have gained attention for improving soil health because they capture excess nitrogen left in the soil and put good plant residue back into the ground.
An initiative of the National Corn Growers Association, the SHP works closely with diverse organizations including commodity groups, industry, foundations, federal agencies, universities and well-known environmental groups toward the common goal of improving soil health.
“We encourage sound soil practices combined with scientific quantification of results from farmers taking positive actions,” said Nick Goeser, SHP director. “Improved crop productivity, environmental gains and economic growth are all benefits of progressive soil management strategies.”
The partnership has scheduled about a dozen events in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, and anticipates dozens more in these and other Midwestern states throughout the summer and fall.
Bible plans on hosting one of the field days, where in part, he will share his success with cereal rye and oats on his farm. He also has experience with tillage cover such as turnips, radishes and snow peas.
“We have tried several different blends of cover crops, looking for the right combination,” he said. “It has had its challenges sometimes, but it has been a good experience overall. Our costs are lower, plus we have less erosion and runoff.”
The updated schedule is at the Soil Health Partnership website, and the schedule will be updated throughout the summer.