Soil health and cover crops go hand in hand in many people's minds. Both are getting more play all the time. Conservation tours and field days over the past year have featured these topics more than talking about no-till or conservation tillage.
At the recent Wild Cat Creek Watershed Tour hosted by the Greater Wabash River Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc., an RC &D, the topic was listed as explaining work done in the five county area as part of the Mississippi River Basin Initiative. The idea is to reduce sedimentation upstream, so that less sediment carrying nutrients, including nitrogen, reaches the Gulf and contributes to hypoxia, a lack of oxygen that causes problems to fish and other native creatures that live in the Gulf.
Visitors saw Kerry Smith, a district conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservaiton Service, and Brandy Daggett with the project demonstrate how various chunks of soil dissolve in water. The more healthy the chunk, with more life an less compaction, the longer it holds together in the water. In fact, it actually absorbs water in some cases. Soils with little structure quickly peel off, with sediment winding up at the bottom of the cylinder of water,
It's the same experiment Barry Fisher has made famous at a number of field days and workshops across the state. Fisher is a state agronomist with NRCS. He last demonstrated the phenomenon at the Ripley County No-Till meeting March 8 to a crowd of about 200 farmers. High-tech TV equipment that puts the image on a screen via computer makes the demonstration easy to see, even from the back of the room.
At the tour in Tippecanoe County, Hal Brown, Frankfort, showed visitors his cover crops. He stressed the advantages of both cover crops and soil health.Fisher is a big proponent of both. However, he cautions that farmers shouldn't forget the value of no-till and conservation tillage in the entire system. Cover crops and other tools that improve soil health add to the benefits of reduced tillage, they don't replace them, Fisher stresses.