If you no-till with cover crops, imagine sitting at a roundtable discussion with a dozen farmers like yourself, plus conservation agency personnel. Normally such discussions begin with a technical topic, such as tweaking equipment to plant green.
But that wasn’t the case one day recently, inside Roger and Nick Wenning’s shop near Greensburg, Ind. Instead, a cover-cropper posed this question: “How can we get more farmers to try cover crops?”
Why did he ask? Because although there were about a million acres of cover crops grown in Indiana during the 2018-19 season, less than 10% of Indiana’s total cropland gets seeded to cover crops. This no-tiller wanted to know what it will take to get cover crops on the other 90%.
Bridge the gap
If you haven’t tried cover crops or tried them and stopped, what would get you to try them now?
One roundtable participant suggested hard economic numbers showing dollar-and-cents benefits for cover crops are needed. Several cover crop farmers have shared their numbers at field days, but the message hasn’t stuck. Maybe the people who need to hear it most aren’t at those field days.
Another participant believed demonstration areas set up around Indiana where people could see the difference cover crops makes might help. In the early days of the “T by 2000” state conservation program, two conservation projects in each county funded by state cost-share funds were marked with signs so everyone passing by could make the connection.
What if farmers using cover crops posted signs along the road, stating how much extra cover crops were netting them per acre and how much soil was being saved? If you don’t use cover crops and drove by such a sign with your grandchild, how would you answer these questions? “Grandpa, do you farm like that? Why not?”
Farmer to farmer
Jerry Raynor, state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, participated in the roundtable and returned the next day for a workshop where some of the farmers sitting around the table explained their programs.
“It finally hit me the next day. The answer to getting more people to try cover crops was right there in that farm shop,” Raynor says. “It’s the farmers who do it well who can sell it to other farmers.
“Our agency and our conservation partners can provide cost-share funds and technical expertise, but we’re not actually doing these practices. The farmers at the roundtable are doing them.
“We must figure out a systematic way to link up these people who are doing it with those who want to try cover crops.”
Raynor’s idea just might work. One young farmer at the roundtable switched to no-till and cover crops recently. Someone asked him why he switched. His answer? “I saw the yields my neighbors who use cover crops produced, and how much less fuel they used, and started asking questions.”
He’s still asking questions as his system evolves. If you’re ready to try cover crops, who could you ask? Raynor believes finding someone you can trade questions and answers with will get more cover crops on the ground. We agree. It’s time for the acreage of cover crops in Indiana to zoom past a million — there’s more money to make and more soil to save.
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