By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
DECATUR, Ind. — Mike Werling’s goal for the upcoming field day on his farm is straightforward: He wants to be sure his fellow farmers walk away with ideas on how to reduce and prevent fertilizer runoff.
Werling’s farm is in the St. Marys River watershed and the water eventually dumps into Lake Erie. “Any fertilizer that goes down there costs dollars,” Werling said. “We want to find ways to better our fertilizer usage to keep it on our land. We have to address economics with the farmers.”
The Sept. 5 workshop at Werling’s farm, northwest of Decatur in Adams County, will focus on nutrient management and cover crops.
“I don’t know what will work on their farms,” he said. “But hopefully they can take what they learn and make it work on their farms. There’s no rulebook written yet on what we’re doing now.”
Werling is one of 12 farmers across Indiana participating in a three-year project designed to spread the word about the benefits of proper soil health management, said Lisa Holscher, soil health program manager with the Indiana Assoc. of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (IASWCD).
The project, part of the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative, is funded by an $834,088 grant from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Soybean Alliance have contributed substantial matching funds to the project, Holscher said.
“The goal is to get more soil health practices into the ground,” she explained. “Those practices have been shown to increase production, improve resiliency to extreme weather events and improve nutrient cycling, which leads to reduced runoff.”
The farmers were chosen for reasons such as their locations, their farming practices and leadership ability, Holscher noted. The farmers will host yearly workshops on their farms and participate in various field trials.
The project allows for regional hubs where farmers in those areas can participate in outreach and education, technical assistance and research into soil health practices, she said. “We’re trying to tailor the workshops to the needs of the region,” Holscher added. “We’re trying to play to as many strengths as possible. And the events don’t have to be just for no-tillers.”
Werling said he’s been making more presentations to groups since he joined the project.
“I’ve been doing a lot more talking,” he said. “I’ll go to a meeting and hand out my card and tell people to come out and we’ll walk around (the farm) and dig. I’ve had some people take me up on that. It’s been new farmers and older ones, too.”
The project, including trials conducted by the farmers and at other sites around the state, expands soil health research done in the field, said DeeDee Sigler, communications manager for IASWCD.
“This is just exploding,” Sigler said. “It’s expanding the outreach and getting the word out more and more and more. They’re talking about soil health and how important these things are. You can make money doing this and improve soil health at the same time.”
Last year’s drought and this spring’s heavy rains proved the point that good soil health practices do work, Sigler said.
Werling’s workshop is one of several scheduled for September. For a complete list, visit www.ccsin.org and look under “soil health events and workshops.” To register for the Werling event, visit http://werlingfieldday.eventbrite.com
The workshops are free, and registration deadline for the Werling workshop is Aug. 30.