Less than one in five acres of corn in Indiana was no-tilled in '04. Yet more than one in four was no-tilled a year ago. And when it comes to soybeans, no-till is the method of choice in Indiana. Just over six out of 10 acres of soybeans were no-tilled in '04, compared to almost seven of 10 in '07.
The changes were documented by what's known as the Indiana Cropland Tillage Transect Survey, conducted last summer. The transect concept first began in 1990. Key partners of conservation in each county cooperate together to estimate the amount of tilled vs. non-tilled fields in their county. While determining no-till acres is the goal, they also note the amount of land that is in conservation tillage. That is defined as anything with 30% residue cover at planting time in the spring.
A knotted-rope is used to determine percentage of residue cover. If a piece of residue 'transects' a knot on the rope, it's counted as being covered by residue. Using a 50-foot rope with 100 knots, conservationists can determine the percentage of the field covered by residue.
The local committee drives the road, checking for type of tillage in fields at pre-determined locations. At each spot, the crew determines how much residue 'transects' with a knotted rope used to measure percentage of residue.
While no-till corn still lags far behind no-till soybeans in Indiana, state leaders believe the change is positive and noteworthy. "No-till and strip-till farming can have a huge impact on controlling erosion and building organic matter," says Barry Fisher, state agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Fisher formerly served as the Indiana Conservation Tillage coordinator. That program, dating back to the early 2000's, was specifically targeted to helping farmers understand why no-till corn could be a good fit for their operations.
Field day promotions of no-till and conservation tillage were held from Rockville to Hebron and hundreds of points in between. While funding for the special initiative dried up, Fisher remains one of the most sought-after speakers on no-till techniques today.
Other groups besides NRCS cooperating to make the transect study possible include Purdue University Extension, the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the State Soil Conservation Board, and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.
Jane Hardisty, head of NRCS in Indiana, sees the change based on the increased percentages of no-till in three years as significant. She calculates it means soil erosion is reduced by a million tons a year. That means much less water heading into local streams, rivers and lakes, she concludes.
Transects are not conducted in every county in every year. However, records are kept form the time the program began so that comparisons can be made.