Spring Tillage Transect Results Released – Indiana Farmers Plowing Less and Saving Top Soil

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN, October , 2015 – The 2015 Spring Tillage and Cover Crop Transect shows that 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.

According to Jane Hardisty, State Conservationist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service, “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.”

There are many forms of conservation tillage, but the ultimate 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 when compared to a conventional (chisel-disk) tillage system, and is a critical component to improve soil organic matter and soil health.

The 2015 Spring Tillage and Cover Crop Transect 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 required fewer passes and they used less fuel which resulted in over 14 million gallons of diesel saved!

Additionally, ICP is tracking fields that plant cover crops as a conservation practice. These plants benefit the soil before planting or after harvest by feeding the diverse populations of soil biology, preventing soil erosion, and building soil organic matter. Over 933, 000 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,” 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.”

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 make sense for us to continue to observe, track and tell the stories of the good things our farmers are doing,” said Hardisty.

Last year, the ICP completed their first ever fall tillage transect and plans to do this year’s survey in the next few weeks. Tillage transect reports dating back to 1990 can be found here. To learn more about the tillage transect for your county, visit http://www.in.gov/isda/2370.htm# to find your local Soil and Water Conservation District.