Monday, July 15, 2013

Tracking Conservation Tillage Trends

 by: Laura Fribley, District Support Specialist, Indiana State Department of Agriculture

Scott County farmers are continuing the trend of plowing less of their land as they employ sound conservation practices that preserve valuable topsoil while making it all work toward a better bottom line.  Data from the 2013 Tillage Transect indicate that as a result of tillage practices on Scott County’s corn and soybean acres, an estimated 75,100 gallons of diesel fuel are saved compared to conventional tillage this year, and 121,100 tons of soil!

As Indiana farmers wrapped up planting, local conservation agency teams around the state conducted “Tillage Transect” countywide surveys.  The process identifies the types of tillage systems farmers are using and long-term trends of conservation tillage adoption. 

Conservation tillage leaves 30 percent or more crop residue cover such as stalks, leaves, and roots on the soil surface before and after planting.  “Conservation tillage helps keep the soil where it belongs: on the field.  This residue cover 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 healthy streams,” says Laura Fribley, Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA).  Conservation tillage also includes a practice commonly known as “no-till”, where farmers directly plant into the previous crop with little disturbance.  No-till farming methods can reduce soil erosion by 75 percent compared to a conventional (chisel-disk) tillage system.
Indiana State Department of Agriculture’s Resource Specialist Ed Roll examines crop residue in a Scott County soybean field as part of the 2013 Tillage Transect survey.

In June, employees from ISDA, Scott County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), and Natural Resources Conservation Service spent the day collecting data within the boundaries of Scott County.  Ed Roll, Resource Specialist with ISDA, has assisted with thirteen Scott County Tillage Transects since they began in 1990.  This experience, along with being a lifelong resident, has given him the perspective of watching conservation tillage grow over time.  “My brother and I started with no-till by renting a corn planter in the early 1980s, from Clark County SWCD and a no-till drill from Scott County SWCD as well,” says Roll.  “Over the years, a lot of agencies encouraged no-till, and a lot of local producers adopted these conservation tillage methods.  Scott County has always had a good amount, which is why we’ve been locally called the “No-till Capital of the World’”.   
One way of measuring residue cover is the line-transect method.  It involves counting the number of times a marked line intersects with a piece of residue.  Crop residue is important because it can help protect the soil from the impact and erosive properties of rainfall.
Indiana is the only state nationwide that still continually conducts the Tillage Transect, and the data is used by multiple agencies and publications.   For more information on conservation tillage trends within your county and around the state, please visit or contact your local SWCD .

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