February 17, 2022
Most people will remember 2020 and 2021 as the time Hoosiers adapted to overcome pandemic challenges. From the vantage point of 2022, Bobby Hettsmanperger believes some attention should be directed to another pandemic: soil erosion.
“We’ve been staring at it for a century, and we have bruises from running into walls fighting it,” he says.
Hettsmanperger, a Wabash, Ind., farmer, is chairman of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. “We need to persevere and bring young people into the fight.”
There are signs the tide is turning, but more needs to be done. Indiana is a leader in soil health nationwide. Experts talk about improving soil health by implementing a combination of no-till and cover crops.
“We were doing what it takes to improve soil health before we even heard the term,” says Roger Wenning, past IASWCD president. Wenning and his son, Nick, have planted green for over a decade.
“We started into no-till years ago because moldboard plowing wasn’t working,” Roger says. “Rolling around clods after plowing wasn’t producing the yields we needed.”
The mission now, Hettsmanperger and Wenning agree, is taking the message to growers who haven’t seen the value of no-till and cover crops. “Even people with a yard need to hear the message,” Wenning says. “They can overapply nutrients on yards. Urban people need to be part of the effort.”
Role of SWCDs
One year ago, IASWCD established an urban conservation program, with a state coordinator and four regional specialists. The Natural Resources Conservation Service was a key partner, helping direct funding toward urban conservation.
“We are blessed in Indiana to have a strong conservation partnership,” says NRCS state conservationist Jerry Raynor. “I’ve worked in several states during my career, and Indiana has the strongest partnership promoting soil conservation that I have experienced.”
Indiana’s reputation for strong conservation partnerships attracted Raynor to Indiana, and he hasn’t been disappointed. The partnership includes NRCS, IASWCD, local soil and water conservation districts, the Farm Service Agency, the state soil conservation board, and three Indiana state departments — Agriculture, Environmental Management and Natural Resources.
As strong as the partnership is, Raynor believes the spotlight needs to return to individual SWCDs in each county for the fight to eradicate soil erosion to reach more farmers.
“When I was a district conservationist with NRCS in North Carolina, I answered the phone with the name of the local soil and water conservation district I represented,” he relates. “Some people wondered why I did so when I was an NRCS employee. Local people relate to local people. In this case, they relate to their local soil and water conservation district.”
Raynor continues. “Our role in the partnership is to provide technical assistance, and we believe we are good at that role,” he says. “But we need local farmers, like Roger and Nick Wenning, telling their story to sell it. Farmers listen to farmers first.”
With that kind of approach, it sounds like the Indiana soil conservation partnership is in good hands. Soil erosion, which is really endemic because it has existed so long, has a real fight on its hands in Indiana.
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