The sun begins to rise this morning over a cornfield just east of Meridian Street by the football field, on Brazil's north side.
By ANDY MCCAMMON
Clay County farmers are beginning to take advantage of government subsidies that encourage environmentally-friendly methods, according to a local conservation official.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), sponsored by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, offers subsidies to farmers who make the switch to no-till farming. The program also helps farmers pay for improvements such as watering systems, sediment control basins and livestock fencing.
According to Doris Scully, the NRCS district conservationist for Clay County, the goal of the EQIP program is to protect the state's soil and water supply from the damage inflicted by traditional farming practices. She said many farmers are still leery of newer techniques like no-till farming, but those concerns hold less and less water as technology improves.
"The technology is there now, with the equipment and herbicides, that we can go in and till into the previous crop residue and not disturb the soil," she said.
Area growers are finally starting to come around. Since October of last year, Scully has enticed 18 Clay County farmers to participate in the EQIP program. The three-year program pays farmers $20 per acre per year as they transition to no-till methods, and an additional $9 per acre for their participation in crop nutrition and pest management programs.
The subsidies they have received total $338,320, and Scully said a new wave of funding will allow even more farmers to update their growing operations.
Mark Evans, Clay County's Purdue extension educator, said no-till farming is finally gaining a foothold in the county. Last year, a record 20 percent of the county's corn yield was produced with no-till farming, up from 8-9 percent in the late 1990s. In 2006, the figure shot up to 40 percent.
"We've seen a phenomenal increase this year," Evans said.
No-till farming produces significant yield increases over time, he said, and the subsidies are an ideal way to cover the cost of transitioning to the no-till method.
"Not only are you cutting your costs, but you're improving your yields," he said. "That's a pretty good scenario."
For more information on the EQIP program, contact Scully at the Clay County office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service at (812) 448-1108 ext. 3.