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Bi-state crop conference was big on information for farmers
By Connie Swaim
Managing Editor

COVINGTON, Ind. — There were thought-provoking topics presented at the annual Bi-State Crop Conference held at The Beef House Restaurant in Covington on Dec. 5. Sixty people from both Indiana and Illinois gathered for the event.
Two speakers in particular seemed to capture the attention of attendees. The first was Carmen Blubaugh Agroecologist, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who discussed the Diverse Corn Belt Project, a five-year, multi-disciplinary research project exploring opportunities beyond corn and soybeans and investigating the real-world impacts of diversified farming systems. The second speaker keeping everyone’s attention was Dr. Andrew Margenot, Associate Professor, University of Illinois who discussed “Overlooked non-ag but non-point sources of nutrient losses: why they matter for achieving nutrient loss targets in Illinois and Indiana.” 
Blubaugh pointed out that much of the produce we consume in the United States comes from California. If that state suddenly became unable to provide that produce; then the consequences could be devastating. “We need to reincorporate consumable food into our rotations,” she said. “We need to reimagine agricultural diversity. What will it take to get more food into our landscapes?” 
In 2022 Blubaugh said farmers in the Corn belt produced 6.7 billion bushels of corn on 55 million acres with a combined worth of $61 billion. However, also in that year there were increased farm bankruptcies declining farm employment, diminishing rural communities and environmental degradation. 
“These struggles expose a lack of resilience and diminishing returns of an agricultural system based on monocultures.” 
Blubaugh said, “Solutions can include shifting agricultural systems toward greater diversity on farms or the landscape and in agricultural markets.”
Obviously, this is all easier said than done. Blubaugh pointed out there are challenges from competition from markets that can currently supply produce year-round at a lower cost. And farming currently favors scale. It is less expensive to buy seed in bulk, which means economics often favors farmers who farm larger acreages. 
Labor is always an issue and with diversification of crops would come a need for diversified labor force to care for and harvest those crops. “If you are going to introduce a horticultural crop into an agricultural setting, you will need someone to harvest it,” Blubaugh said. 
However, she pointed out there would also be opportunities included in the diversification such as food hubs and food co-ops; farmer cooperations, supporting mid-size horticultural hubs, growing markets to incentivize farmers to diversify and producing equipment for smaller scale farming and horticultural production. 
The project would like to see farmers in the Corn Belt add in small grains and forage crops in rotation, agroforestry, horticultural food crops and grazed livestock. 
“If farmers have land to spare or equipment to loan, you might consider partnering with someone who can plant something else on the land such as nut trees or fruit trees,” Blubaugh said. 
To learn more about the Diverse Corn Belt Project visit
Margenot discussed the pesky issue of phosphorus and how science is pointing to different sources of pollution that show farmers are not as much to blame as previously thought. This is important because funding to clean up phosphorus and keep it out of streams and rivers may be going to the wrong sources based on faulty information. 
Margenot’s talk was titled “overlooked non-ag but non-point sources of nutrient losses: why they matter for achieving nutrient loss targets in Illinois and Indiana.” To unpack that title a point source is something like a pipe that leaves a factory and carries waste to a stream. Point sources are generally easy to locate and get data on. Non point sources include everything from golf course run off to agriculture. Margenot wanted to make the point that farmers are being falsely equated with much of the non-point run off of phosphorus.  “Illinois and Indiana are actually very efficient in their use of phosphorus,” he said. 
While farmers have continued to use less phosphorus than in decades previously, phosphorus levels are going up in rivers. Phosphorus stays in the soil for a long time. “Phosphorus has been there for thousands of years,” he said. “Legacy phosphorus is the gift that keeps on giving,” he added. 
One place this legacy phosphorus is coming from is erosion of stream banks. There can be a lot of phosphorus in a stream bank, and streams meander and can change course dramatically. He provided a study of land in Illinois that was once home to a huge containment hog farm in the 1960s; but no hog farms had been on the land since the 1960s. 
A stream that went through the area has changed a lot in the last sixty years and cut through part of the farm and the phosphorus levels in the area were high from the phosphorus leaching out of the eroded stream banks. A study in Iowa showed 39 percent of the phosphorus in streams was from stream bank erosion. 
“We are overestimating the agricultural phosphorus contribution,” Margenot said. 
Where the phosphorus comes from is important to ensure financial resources are not being misdirected. Another issue with phosphorus is it can stay in the water for a long time. Margenot said it may take 100 years for the phosphorus from Indiana or Illinois to make it to the Gulf of Mexico. 
There were several other speakers at the event. 
Bill Johnson, weed scientist from Purdue University, provided a weed management update and encouraged everyone in attendance to get the 2024 Weed Control Guide for Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. The guide provides efficacy rates of various herbicides. “It is the best $13 you can ever spend,” he said. The guide is $8.50 for a pdf download. To find the guide visit
Managing the Storm - Farm Stress for Producers was presented by Kurt Lanzone and Adam Tyler, Purdue Extension Educators. They pointed out that farmers in their studies have indicated how easy it is to access opioids in rural communities and inadequate medical care for rural communities as continuing barriers in terms of helping farmers manage stress. 
Adam Shanks, Digital Agriculture and Natural Resources Curriculum Lead, Purdue Extension, discussed drones and how there is now much more that can be done with a drone than simply scouting. Drones are becoming larger and can carry heavier payloads which means they can provide more application uses, which are much more targeted as they can get into fields where more traditional equipment may not be able to reach. 
For more information about this event contact Jon Charlesworth at 765-762-3231 or