To what extent is it possible to efficiently farm and protect natural resources at the same time? Some feel both can be accomplished effectively and seek to scientifically prove it through a statewide soil health program.
One local farmer in particular strongly believes in protecting natural resources. Jamie Scott farms about 2,000 acres just west of Pierceton off the north side of U.S. 30. His farm was one of 12 in Indiana chosen as a demonstration site for the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative. The demonstration site is part of a three-year conservation innovation grant ($834,088) from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded to the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
“The grant has allowed 12 farms to be set up to test and scientifically gather data to prove what we see when we farm,” Scott said, adding IASWCD holds the grant but several partners are participating, including Purdue University among others. IASWCD was awarded the grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. Scott serves on the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District board of directors, as well as the IASWCD board.
Scott’s grandfather purchased the land Jamie now farms more than 50 years ago. “We have farmed one way a long time,” he said. “We used to look at that field and see the black dirt and green corn and that was the way we knew to do it, but it was not necessarily the right way.
“We used to chisel and work the ground down and it was better than using a moldboard plow, but it was not good enough.”
Since then, Scott has adopted a system of farming emphasizing cover crops to protect the soil, no till or strip till farming and the use of earthworms, beetles, fungus bacteria and others to create usable nutrients in the soil. He has set up three testing areas — essentially 40 feet wide and 540 feet long — covering roughly five to six acres out of a field. On Sept. 18, he will host a field day to show some of the practices he uses for planting various species of cover crops.
“The public can come and ask questions,” he said. “This can multiply, because they will go tell their neighbors what they have learned.”
He emphasized he believes his way of farming is sustainable and effective. “It creates better soil health,” he said. “You don’t have to put on as much commercial fertilizer because the soil is holding the nutrients on its own better. It is reducing what goes away and there is less leeching of nitrogen and phosphorous, particularly during a big rain.”
Scott also feels too many insecticides and fungicides are being applied to farm fields. He said too much focus is placed on getting rid of the one bad insect or pest and it can result in the valuable ones being eliminated, too. “You make the symptoms worse,” he said. “With healthy soil, though, you can attack and fend off the bad events.”
There is an economic side to this way of farming, too. “Healthy soil raises better plants and higher value crops,” Scott said. Less fertilizer and fuel is used resulting in lower input costs.
He is also among those promoting the increased use of earthworms, for one example. He said they create usable nutrients for the soil and also channels or holes in the soil that allow more water to infiltrate the soil where it is needed, meaning less flooding and chemical runoff. “Tilling kills earthworms,” he said. “It ruins their habitat. But if you have more earthworms, it means you can use less fertilizer.”
Scott’s way of farming is not accepted by some farmers, though progress is slowly being made, he said. Some are not convinced his way of farming really works. But, he said, the goal of the state program is to convince skeptics with scientific proof coming from labs.
He also cited an example of a John Deere magazine, The Furrow, recently carrying several soil health related articles, which he said is not normal for the magazine.
His farm is one of four demonstration sites in the northeast region of Indiana. The others are located south of Fort Wayne, north of Elwood and one in Wabash County. Soil samples have already been pulled and more will later to be sent to four different testing labs in various parts of the U.S.
He also noted it is hoped the 12 CCSI farmers will be able to visit a neighbor not using the same practices and obtain soil samples from those farms. Comparing the samples should show which method is better for the soil. Unlike more “traditional” research projects, CCSI farmers are not all farming the same types of soils and conditions, and they have adopted conservation practices during differing periods of time. The goal is for this blend of conservation practices to provide insights into the positive impacts of such practices during differing conditions and extended periods of time.
In a county with a large number of lakes and other valuable natural resources such as the Tippecanoe River, among others, it is important to protect those resources, Scott said, in order to keep them pollution free and also because of the tourism they generate for the county. And he believes feeding the world and protecting natural resources is possible.
“We can farm and protect natural resources at the same time,” he said. “It’s just that simple.”
For more information on the CCSI farmers and the program, go online to www.ccsin.org.
COVER CROPS — Jamie Scott is standing in a section of cover crops on his farm near Pierceton. He extensively uses the practice of planting cover crops to protect the soil and hopes to see more farmers do the same. (Photo by Tim Ashley)
SOIL SAMPLE — Jamie Scott is holding a sample of soil dug up from a wheat field on his farm. He hopes to show how earthworms, among others, can replenish the soil naturally. (Photo by Tim Ashley)