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Serving: IN

Selling conservation in 21st century comes down to education

Tom J. Bechman Gene Schmidt
EDUCATE! If you want to bring about real change and get more conservation on the land, no-tiller and Master Farmer Gene Schmidt believes everyone who has a stake in seeing more conservation practices needs to play an active role in educating others.
Stakeholders say farmers must educate the public and fellow farmers about the value of conservation.

A farmer plants corn into living cover in mid-May. A mile down the road, a neighbor moldboard plows a field with a 12% slope, and then plants corn. The farmer who no-tilled into green cover harvests 240 bushels per acre. The neighbor harvests his corn for silage. Which farmer is progressive?

If it’s the no-till farmer, here’s the question: Why don’t more people do it? How do you get more people to no-till, sow cover crops or leave soybean stubble alone in the fall? Or put differently, how do you sell the story of 21st century conservation so more people adopt conservation practices?

“The heart of the matter is education,” says Gene Schmidt, a LaPorte County no-tiller, 2012 Indiana Prairie Farmer Master Farmer and former president of the National Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

“To make a change this year, plant a seed in the spring,” Schmidt says. “For positive change 10 years down the road, plant a tree. If you want to create lasting change 50 years from now, educate someone!”

Schmidt and Bruce Kettler, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, discussed how to sell conservation to a wider audience, including farmers, during a conservation workshop sponsored by the Elkhart County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Point out benefits

“Indiana has a wide diversity in resources, and we are a leader in conservation cropping nationwide,” Schmidt says. “More recently, Indiana is widely recognized as a leading state in cover crops.”

Yet not everyone does it. In fact, at last count, according to conservation transect reports, about 1.2 million acres of Indiana land has a cover crop over winter annually, or about 12% of all crop land.

“We must help people understand that the benefits of conservation can’t always be measured monetarily in the short term,” Schmidt says. “We must look at long-term benefits. My grandfather was right when he told me that to take best care of the land, we needed to keep something green out there all the time.

“What we need the public to understand today is that we can make concrete change that will minimize the impacts of the climate and weather on everybody. We can do it through changing how we farm the land, incorporating more conservation practices.”

Kettler adds, “Most of us in agriculture seem to wrestle with how to tell the story of what we’re doing. How do we educate other farmers and the public?

“Our message must make economic sense. If a farmer can’t make money [like planting green], it isn’t sustainable. If we believe our story makes economic sense and is sustainable, we all must share in telling the story to other farmers and to the public.”

Schmidt concludes, “It’s all about education. You must read people and understand where they are. If you are sincere and speak from your heart, they will see that, and begin to ask questions. That’s when education begins.”

TAGS: no-till
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