Some programs announced at state levels are only for farmers doing a certain type of practice. If cost-share money is involved, often with federal strings, typically it's for conservation practices. That's because USDA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service often put their dollars where they can reduce erosion, thus reducing pollution, or improve water quality.
That may eventually be the result of On-Farm Network programs, but it's not the starting point. The goal the first year is for producers in all types of tillage systems to learn how the rate and the way they apply nitrogen may affect both profitability and the environment.
"We're really hoping we'll get farmers in conventional tillage as well as those who do minimum tillage or no-till to take part," says Roz Leeck, director of the program. She's the ISDA contact who spearheaded receiving the USDA grant in ISDA to make this program possible. The Indiana Corn marketing Council and Indiana Soybean Alliance are each adding money this first year to help get the program off the ground. It's patterned after a successful program in Iowa started 10 years ago to give farmers more say in what types of issues they took a closer look at on their farms.
Dan Towery and Hans Kok, who work to promote conservation tillage in Indiana, will be consultants in this program. However, that doesn't mean the program is only for those already in conservation tillage programs of some sort today.
"We're going to be working with everyone," Kok says. "That will include people who are in conventional tillage. Perhaps things they learn through the program will convince them to take a look at other tillage systems, but we're certainly not limiting this to conservation tillage or no-till farmers. We want everyone involved."
Groups of 10 to 20 farmers, with 15 being ideal, will determine what they want to look at in any one season, and then each one will do trials on his or her own farm. At the end of the year, data will be pooled. However, sources say only the farmer and state coordinator will actually know which field is which. The rest of the results will be reported, but will not be tied to a specific field or farmer.
The early groups that start this year will likely look at nitrogen application, say both Towery and Kok. The consultants and people providing oversight to each group will help make sure that they get aerial images and stalk test nitrate information from the participating fields. That will help the farmers draw conclusions after looking at all the data together, Towery notes.