Barry Fisher does a tremendous demonstration to prove that soil quality is important. He takes three pieces of soil from a conventional field, one from a no-till field and one from another field with no-till and cover crops, and drops them into jars of water. The conventional 'clod' breaks apart first every time, because the force of the water acts upon its surface. It doesn't have pore space to take water in and help hold the structure of the soil together.
Fisher, a leading conservation tillage expert and agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has helped lead the charge on selling the spoil quality concept in Indiana. Even NRCS Chief Dave White says Indiana is getting to be known for concentrating on soil health, and teaching farmers how to maintain soil quality and health.
Growing cover crops to have roots working in the soil all year long, besides protecting the soil over winter when it is most vulnerable to soil erosion, is a key part of that, Fisher says. However, he's hoping that audiences aren't missing the point. It's not cover corps alone that produce changes in soil quality and soil health over time. The cover crops coupled with no-till systems really make the difference.
"We've got to remember is that long-term no-till is where it all starts," he says. "The hot thing right now is cover crops, because farmers have discovered they can add several benefits besides oil protection. But without being part of a no-till or minimum tillage system, cover crops by themselves won][t be as effective in helping restore soil quality and soil health. You need the entire package to achieve your goals."