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The results are in from the first-ever statewide fall tillage transect completed late last year as part of a collaborative effort between the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA), USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Indiana’s 92 Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) and other members of the Indiana Conservation Partnership (ICP). The report shows significant increases in the adoption of conservation practices on farm fields by Hoosier farmers.
The tillage transect is a cropland survey conducted in each county by ICP personnel and Earth Team volunteers. Using a predetermined route, staff look at farm fields in their county collecting data on tillage methods, plant cover, residue, etc. in order to tell the story of conservation efforts in Indiana. The survey uses GPS technology and provides a statistically reliable method for estimating farm management and related annual trends. Transects are usually conducted bi-annually in the spring before crops are planted.
The fall transect estimated one million acres of living plant cover such as cover crops and winter cereal grains were planted on Indiana farms last year. These important plants protect soil from rain, snow and extreme cold, and retain valuable nutrients in fields benefitting water quality, and feeding diverse populations of soil biology. Residues protected from environmental elements play a key role in building soil organic matter and soil health.
The report also shows most Indiana farmers left their tillage equipment in the shed this past fall to protect their fields with harvested crop residues. Results for residues and soil undisturbed on harvested acres during the winter months include:
77% of corn acres
79% of small grain acres
82% of soybean acres
ISDA, NRCS, SWCDs and the other members of the ICP are actively promoting a total conservation cropping systems approach to farming which focuses on soil health and function. Soil health practices include no-till (never-till), using diverse cover crops, adaptive nutrient management, integrated weed and pest management, diverse crop rotations, precision farming technology and prescriptive buffers.
“We believe the no-till acres represented in the fall transect data are at a much higher and sustainable quality because farmers are using multiple conservation practices implemented as part of a system on their fields,” said Jane Hardisty, NRCS State Conservationist. “The results of the transect show Indiana is a top leader in the nation in acres of cover crops planted which is important during weather extremes like those we have experienced this year.”
“We know that farmers seek to retain soil and nutrients on the land, which promotes improved soil health and water quality. Therefore, tracking trends in conservation tillage, energy consumption and cropping systems is an important and valuable activity,” said Ted McKinney, Director of ISDA. “Transects give conservation partners the opportunity to observe the current land use conditions and discuss the resource needs and accomplishments related to the soil and water resources in each county. Such efforts are particularly rewarding when the results show that Indiana is among the leaders in soil conservation and water quality.”
The ICP is also currently wrapping up the bi-annual spring transect, which determines whether covers were unharvested or harvested small grains such as wheat. Estimates of spring tillage and verification of the cover crops planted last fall will be analyzed soon.
If you want to learn more about the transect data for your county, visit your local Soil and Water Conservation District office found here: http://www.in.gov/isda/2370.htm, or contact the Indiana State Department of Agriculture at mailto: ISDANutrientReduction@isda.in.gov.