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Speakers to demystify use of cover crops for healthy soils


INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Vermillion County farmer Carter Morgan has a hypothesis about why some producers are hesitant to try cover crops.

“Everybody knows what cover crops are and everybody wants to talk about them,” he explained. “There are a couple of things holding them back. One is fear. Cover crops are different. If you screw up, everyone is watching you. They get worked up over what the neighbors think, what the neighbors are doing.”

Those farmers are also concerned about the potential cost of cover crops, especially given low commodity prices, Morgan noted. Costs may be lowered by using the right seed mix for a given field.

Morgan will be one of several speakers discussing cover crops, nutrient management and soil health during next week’s Indiana Farm Equipment and Technology Expo. The event is Dec. 11-13 in the West Pavilion of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

During his presentation, he hopes to show farmers how to cut cover crop costs. “It doesn’t cost an arm or a leg to get into this,” he said. “It doesn’t cost $30 to $50 to $80 an acre. They can do this economically.

“I also want to show them how to look at things differently, to look at the way water moves and infiltrates. If they could see what I see, they would have a different mindset.”

Morgan farms about 2,700 acres with his brother, father and uncle. They have cover crops such as cereal rye, rapeseed and oats on more than 90 percent of their operation. The family started using cover crops in 2011.

“We drill (the cover crops) into the bean stubble and fly over the cornstalks,” he explained. “The main reason is, when we’re harvesting beans, we have enough labor to drill. When we’re harvesting corn, we’re short of labor.”

Whether by use of cover crops or through changes in nutrient and fertilizer management, farmers need to be a part of the solution to water quality challenges, said Ben Wicker, executive director of the Indiana Agriculture Nutrient Alliance.

“When we look at fertilizer and manure use and systems as a whole, they’re inherently leaky,” he pointed out. “We’re going to have losses. That contributes to situations such as the algae blooms in Lake Erie.

“People are looking closer at practices and sources. It’s important to demonstrate good stewardship of fertilizer and manure. It’s an opportunity in time to craft our destiny and demonstrate what practices really do work.”

Some farmers cite time and the management changes necessary to use cover crops as reasons not to try the practice, Wicker said. “They’ll say, ‘I have a system on my farm that works well, but this is adding a whole new set of operations. How am I going to make this work? How do I go from concept to actual practices?’”

He hopes attendees improve their knowledge of the 4 Rs of nutrient management: right source, right rate, right time and right place. “I also hope they get a better understanding of fertilizer and manure use and how that relates to water quality opportunities and challenges.”

Mark Anson, a farmer in Knox County, will discuss how cover crops make life easier on his nearly 20,000-acre operation.

“(Cover crops) have allowed us to do a lot of field maintenance, tile maintenance instead of trying to get fieldwork done at the wrong time,” he explained. “I want to share how using cover crops has changed my life – it has become more fulfilling and less stressful. My motto is, healthy soils, healthy water, healthy life.”

Anson farms with two of his brothers. They’ve been planting cover crops since 2010; about 60 percent of their operation uses the practice. They primarily use annual rye grass, spring and winter oats, barley, triticale and cereal rye.

“I hope I inspire (attendees) enough to consider taking a field and starting down the path of change,” he said. “It’s a long-term investment. It’s an opportunity to leave the soil better than you found it.”

Presentations on soil health, cover crops and nutrient management are scheduled for each day of the Expo. At 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 11, Ken and Rodney Rulon will discuss soil organic matter.

Betsy Bower, a certified crop advisor with Ceres Solutions, and Carter will talk about the practical side of cover crops at 10 a.m. on Dec. 12. On Dec. 13, Wicker’s presentation is planned for 11 a.m. and Anson’s, for 11:30.

In addition, attendees may watch cover crops demonstrations at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. daily during the Expo.

This is the first Indiana Farm Equipment and Technology Expo, hosted by radio network Hoosier Ag Today and Farm World’s owner, MidCountry Media, Inc. The Expo will focus on new technology and product innovation in farm equipment, seed genetics, bioscience, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence and Big Data. For more information and to register, visit