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Soil Conservation Efforts in Indiana Trend Up | Indiana News

According to a recent conservation survey, Indiana farmers planted an estimated 1.5 million acres of winter shelter in late fall 2021, up from the record 1.5 million acres planted in 2020, according to the Indiana Department of Agriculture.

Wintering live covers (i.e. cover crops and small grains such as wheat) are known for their environmental benefits. Cover crops and small grains help increase soil organic matter and improve overall soil health by adding live roots to the soil for extra months of the year. Cover crops also improve water penetration into the soil, while other cover crops such as legumes act as a natural fertilizer. The 1.5 million acres of planted, green land have sequestered an amount of soil organic carbon equivalent to 819,941 tons of CO2.

Although the conservation cross-section does not distinguish between cover crops and small crops, Indiana farmers typically plant fewer than 300,000 acres of small crops per year, leaving cover crops heavily dominating the estimated 1.5 million acres. With the exception of corn and soybeans, cover crops are grown on more acres than any other crop in Indiana. Cover crops are typically planted in the fall after harvest and serve to protect the soil and keep roots in the ground throughout winter, improving soil health and helping to filter water runoff.

The Conservation Transect is a visual overview of farmland in the state. It was conducted between March and April 2022 by members of the Indiana Conservation Partnership, including the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Indiana’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Purdue Extension, and Earth Team volunteers to show a more complete History of the state’s conservation efforts.

“By improving our cover crop practices each year, we ensure we provide healthier soils for the next generation,” said Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch, Indiana Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development. “I’m proud of the combined efforts of our farmers and agricultural leaders in Indiana.”

As a result of cover crops and other winter cover planted last year, an estimated 2.1 million tons of sediment have been prevented from entering Indiana’s waterways, which is enough sediment to fill more than 597 Olympic-size swimming pools. Hibernation covers also prevented 5.1 million pounds of nitrogen and over 2.5 million pounds of phosphorus from entering Indiana’s waterways.

The conservation survey also showed that about 70 percent of managed hectares were not tilled and 18 percent of managed hectares had reduced tillage after the 2021 harvest. This early spring survey is not intended to quantify pre-sowing tillage.

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