INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The National Assoc. of Conservation Districts (NACD) is bringing its annual meeting to Indianapolis in part because many Hoosier farmers practice good soil health techniques, according to a former head of the organization.
The NACD Soil Health Forum and Conservation Tour is July 21-22, with employee soil health training planned for July 23. Association board meetings are scheduled for July 18-20.
Indiana is a leading state in the use of correct soil health practices and has partnered with the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative, said Gene Schmidt, past NACD president and a farmer in LaPorte County. The initiative is a three-year project designed to promote the benefits of proper soil health management.
This is the first time one of NACD’s summer board meetings has been scheduled away from Washington, D.C., he said. The organization also has an annual winter meeting.
"Indianapolis is a good location for this because there are good places for meetings plus a great opportunity to give tours of farms using these various practices," Schmidt said. "This allows our farmers to be the messengers."
Indiana’s topography and the uniqueness of its soil types could be reasons its farmers are focusing on soil health, he said. "We may have different soil types in one 40-acre field, where other states may have the same (soil types) for acres," he noted.
"Those kinds of diversity and the lay of Indiana cause farmers to try to recognize what’s feasible and to become accepting of different types of technology."
Tours of three farms are scheduled for July 22, and representatives of those operations will give presentations about their farm management practices the day before during the soil health forum.
"We hope the tours give everyone the opportunity to pick everyone’s brain to see what’s working and what’s not working," he said. "They can help famers with the bumps and bruises on the way to something new. Sometimes you fix one problem and you create another. They want to know how to solve that problem, too."
One important soil health practice is the use of cover, Schmidt said, noting he’s heard from an early age, "if you want to keep soil healthy, keep a growing crop on it all the time." Cover crops help harbor nutrients, protect the topsoil from erosion and can act as a weed killer.
Indiana ranked second nationwide in total acres devoted to cover crops, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. It had 596,062 acres in cover crops, with Texas, the No. 1 state, at 911,061.
"It’s always kind of neat to travel the country, listen and learn (about soil health practices), but at the same time be humble," Schmidt said. "You have to do that when you realize you’re in a state that’s on the cutting-edge."
It’s not surprising Indiana ranks as high as it does in its amount of cover acreage, said Jordan Seger, director of the state’s Department of Agriculture’s Division of Soil Conservation. "Indiana has extremely innovative farmers," he noted. "We have good farmers who aren’t afraid of looking at different types of technology and management techniques.
"We also have strong conservation partnerships at the local, state and federal level with the FSA (Farm Service Agency), NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) and Purdue University. We have partnerships in Indiana that no other states have."
Use of cover crops may be a strong indicator a farmer also makes use of other conservation and stewardship practices such as good nutrition and pesticide management, Seger said.
The Census questionnaire asked farmers about other management practices such as their use of no-till. Indiana ranked eighth in the nation in the amount of acres devoted to no-till, with 4.95 million. Kansas, with 10.4 million, was No. 1.
"No-till leads to huge reductions in soil erosion and soil loss, and keeps the soil on the ground and keeps the nutrients there too," Seger said. "The data suggests it’s a smart way to farm with environmental concerns."
Farmers were also asked about conservation techniques such as strip-till and vertical tillage, and Indiana ranked ninth with 3.1 million acres. Iowa was No. 1 with 8.8 million.
Full no-till does take a higher level of management, Seger said, adding labor and diesel costs are lower, making the practice a good one from an economic perspective.
"From where I sit, agriculture is getting some pressure, and this shows how agriculture is addressing (conservation and environmental) issues," he said. "Data like this is pretty important to us."
Use of cover crops in other states in the Farm World area include: Michigan, fifth, 437,200 acres; Iowa, ninth, 379,614; Ohio, 11th, 357,292; Kentucky, 13th, 353,831; Illinois, 17th, 318,636; and Tennessee, 23rd, 183,638.
Use of no-till include: Iowa, fifth, 6.95 million acres; Illinois, seventh, 6.1 million; Ohio, ninth, 4.3 million; Kentucky, 14th, 2.3 million; Tennessee, 15th, 2.1 million; and Michigan, 18th, 1.5 million.
Use of conservation tillage practices other than no-till include: Illinois, second, 7.7 million acres; Ohio, 12th, 2.4 million; Michigan, 14th, 1.8 million; Kentucky, 26th, 573,608; and Tennessee, 30th, 376,757.