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The 2015 Spring Tillage and Cover Crop Transect shows Hoosier farmers continue the trend of plowing less and using sound conservation practices that preserve and build valuable topsoil.
Each spring the members of Indiana’s Conservation Partnership (ICP) load up their vehicles to conduct a field survey of tillage methods, plant cover, and crop residue in their county. A tillage transect is an on-the-ground survey that identifies the types of tillage systems farmers are using and long-term trends of conservation tillage adoption using GPS technology, plus a statistically reliable model for estimating farm management and related annual trends.
So why look at conservation tillage? Conservation tillage helps keep the soil where it belongs: on the field. Residue cover of just 30 percent can help reduce soil erosion by 50 percent or more compared to bare soil. This is good for our farmers, good for soil productivity, and good for our drinking water.
The ultimate in conservation tillage is “no-till”, where farmers directly plant into the previous crop with little soil disturbance. No-till farming methods can reduce soil erosion by 75 percent compared to a conventional (chisel-disk) tillage system, and is a critical component to improve soil organic matter and soil health.
Reducing tillage can pay off in other ways. In fact, the 2015 report shows farmers saved over 32 million tons of soil that remained on crop fields by using reduced tillage methods as compared to conventional tillage. Indiana farmers who used reduced tillage systems also required fewer passes and they used less fuel that resulted in over 14 million gallons of diesel saved.
Another important conservation practice that the ICP is tracking is fields planted with cover crops. These plants benefit the soil before planting or after harvest by feeding the diverse populations of soil biology, protecting the soil, and building soil organic matter. Over 933 thousand acres of cover crops were recorded in the Indiana spring transect, which continues to increase each year.
These numbers confirm that Indiana is a national leader in acres of cover crops planted. Indiana farmers were some of the first in the country to figure out the economic and water quality benefits of soil health conservation practices like 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.
In addition to no-till and cover crops, the eight partners who make up the ICP are promoting a soil health management system which combines other soil health practices such as adaptive nutrient management, integrated weed and pest management, and diverse crop rotations to improve soil function and make land more sustainable.
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 makes sense for the ICP to continue to observe, track and tell the stories of the good things Indiana farmers are doing.
To learn more about the tillage transect for your county, visit your local Soil and Water Conservation District office found here: http://www.in.gov/isda/2370.htm.Definitions of Conservation Tillage Practices