Soil health is becoming a common phrase in Indiana. When you see someone no-tilling and using cover crops, you think about soil health. Just how important is soil health, and how can it impact your farm?
Rick Clark of Clark Land and Cattle, Williamsport, Ind., thinks soil health can completely change how you farm. He and his family are proving this as they continually adjust their farming practices.
“We began no-tilling and utilizing cover crops 10 years ago,” he says. “We started planting green into cover crops soon afterward. We believe it’s helping us reduce crop inputs and become more efficient and more profitable.”
However, Clark is the first to insert a word of caution when he talks to groups or when farmers visit his farm. “You just don’t go out and do the things we’re doing and trying the very first year you try no-till and cover crops,” he says. “It can take five years or so before you might feel confident with doing some of these things. We’re proving to ourselves that it works for us, but it might not be right for everyone.”
The first step is understanding how important soil health can be, Clark says. “Our livestock are under our feet, and we want to do whatever we can to encourage them,” he explains. “That means removing things like as many chemicals as possible from the system. It also means selecting cover crops for cocktail mixes that support certain types of microbes, such as mycorrhizae fungi. When you do these things, you begin to see just how much improved soil health can do for your crops and your farm.”
Clark and his family raise non-GMO corn and soybeans because there is a market for such crops and it fits their business model. “It means we’re taking somewhat more risk, because if weeds show up later, we don’t have as many options for controlling them,” he acknowledges. “The risk is worth it. Weed control is something you continue working on, but we’re finding out what works best in our system.”
The Clarks’ are also transitioning 600 acres to organic production. Again, this fits their business model because they have marketing opportunities. It’s a work in progress, but Clark says so far, he’s satisfied with their progress.
“I’m proud to be a farmer, but I’m more proud of the way I farm,” Clark says. He describes his type of farming as “regenerative agriculture.” By putting soil health first, he believes he sets up an environment over time that releases nutrients faster and helps his crops grow more efficiently than in any other system.
And although he’s serious about starting off slow if you’re new to the system, or if you’re still working your way through your first few years, Clark believes the most important thing is to get started and keep learning.
“If you’re not uncomfortable with what you’re doing, then you’re probably not trying hard enough to change,” he says.
He leaves groups and visitors with this challenge: “I challenge everyone to get a little uncomfortable. I think you will like how it feels.”
Watch the website for a future story that details the specifics of Clark’s system.