Who better to close out a meeting revealing new conservation efforts than Ray McCormick of Vincennes, immediate past president of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts?
The new efforts feature a three-year program that will set up demonstration sites for conservation practices. The program will focus on developing soil health – using primarily no-till and cover crops – at five sites across the state, plus at 12 or more farms. It will also introduce a mentor program piloted this past year so that farmers with experience can work with farmers still trying to master the system.
Indiana and North Dakota are the clear leaders in soil heath in the U.S., officials say. Jay Fuhrer is the Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservation in Burleigh County near Bismarck, North Dakota. The county includes one million acres, about the size of four good-sized Indiana counties.
Fuhrer and Gabe Brown, a farmer and supervisor instrumental in developing soil health programs, visited three workshops in Indiana to share what they learned in helping farmers to adapt these practices. One of the keys is to have a demonstration farm. That's why Lisa Holscher, program manager of the new effort under the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative, is so thrilled to have four hubs plus a fifth demonstration site where the group can demonstrate and do testing on practices related to conservation.
This is where McCormick's call for change comes in. He is an innovator, having converted part of his farmland near a major river to wildlife habitat years ago. Through arrangements with hunters, he allows hunting, and seeds the proper habitat to attract certain waterfowl and wildlife species. He also raises corn, soybeans, wheat, peaches and cattle.
Wrapping up the final meeting, McCormick laid down this charge. "Now is the time and this is the place," he began. "It's time to take soil health and conservation to the next level.
"We can do it right here in Indiana. We have the tools. We have the people to support us. There will never be a better time to return to farming the way it was supposed to be. We need to let soil health work for us, and not work against it.
"This is the time to take conservation farming and soil health to a whole new plane. There is no turning back. Here we come."