Would I actually blame soil conservation for the way the countryside in Indiana looks today, and for the current water quality in streams and rivers? That depends on your point of view.
Here are examples of how soil conservation practices, especially since T by 2000 began in 1986 and morphed into Clean Water Indiana, and the 1985 Farm Bill and Conservation Reserve Program kicked up interest and funding at the federal level, have changed the Indiana landscape. You decide.
One. Fewer rock'em, sock'em gullies for four-wheeling! Old-timers in southern Indiana claim there were gullies big enough to lose a combine in back in the 1940s. Of course, combines were smaller then. With grass waterways and the Conservation Reserve Program, the vast majority of these "ultimate" gullies have disappeared. That's great for losing less soil and making pasture and crop fields productive again, but it's a lost opportunity for those who like to drive four-wheelers over rough terrain.
Two. Fewer dramatic "dust bowl-type" pictures to shoot. Wind erosion is still a big deal in northwest Indiana. If you don't think so, you should have driven through Benton County this winter and seen the dirty snow where fields were tilled last fall.
Actually, those examples are harder to find today than before people planted windbreaks and heaven forbid, began planting cover crops. It's tougher to find a good dust storm to shoot ominous pictures of dust clouds these days.
Three. Less mud at the old swimming hole. James Whitcomb Riley made things like the old swimming holes famous. Picture one with kids sliding up and down muddy banks where cattle tromped in and out. With incentives to fence cattle out of streams today, the banks of most streams are far less muddy and prone to soil erosion today.
Related: Spring Moldboard Plowing? Really?
Four. Where have all the manure lots gone? Growing up, if no one was looking, it was easy to get rid of manure if you couldn't get into the field. Just let it run down the hill! If a creek was nearby, big deal – out of sight, out of mind. Farming like that might have seemed easier, but in reality, valuable nutrients were going where they shouldn't be instead of where they should be. Cost-sharing on lagoons and manure control structures have helped replace those scenes with panoramic views of manure treated like a fertilizer, stored and applied properly.
Five. Wonderful scent of fresh-plowed fields. Man, didn't that fresh-turned earth smell good? I grew up thinking it did. Then a friend told me that's why gullies kept appearing in our fields. Once you get the hang of it, the look of green corn plants growing up through residue is more gratifying than even the smell of freshly plowed dirt.
Epilogue. OK, I hope you understand satire. If you want to return to the gullies of the 1940s and the dust storms of earlier days, you might rethink your priorities. Besides, riding ATVs over gullies is dangerous, and cattle in a creek eventually produce a messy, smelly quagmire. And moldboard plowing? It's your right to do it, even after soybeans. But if you do, attend just one meeting where someone demonstrates soil health by putting soil from a no-till field and from a conventional field into jars of water. If that doesn't make you think twice before you hook to the moldboard plow again, are you sure you want your kids to have land to farm someday?