Residents of rural Indiana may be surprised to see green fields this fall where they have been long used to the brown fallow fields of winter.
The reason: There has been a tremendous upsurge of agricultural acreage planted to cover crops in the last three years.
Cover crops are literally "crops that cover the soil," and may be used to reduce soil erosion, diminish nitrogen losses, provide weed and pest suppression, and increase soil organic matter.
Winter cover crops are planted shortly before or soon after harvest of the cash crop and are killed before or soon after planting of the next cash crop.
This year, the Clay, Sullivan and Vigo County Soil and Water Conservation Districts coordinated seeding of nearly 3,500 acres of cover crops through a Clean Water Indiana Grant program.
"That's just Clean Water Indiana," Clay County Soil and Water Conservation District Technician David Schroer said. "A lot of farmers planted cover crops either on their own or with assistance through some other program."
Part of the reason for the upswing in cover crop use are efforts like the 11 cover crop plots planted at the Vigo County Fairgrounds this fall by Ryan Hendricks of the Vigo County Soil and Water Conservation District, and Jim Luzar of Purdue Extension.
"The big thing we find with farmers is demonstration," Luzar said. "If they can see it and get their arms around it, it is a lot better education than if we just say, 'Here's cover crops. Go do it.'"
Farmers will have an opportunity to learn about these plots at a workshop scheduled for Dec. 6, at the fairgrounds.
Since the wet spring in 2010 left several local growers with cover crops that hadn't been killed effectively in time for planting, the event organizers decided to place a focus on the management of cover crops.
"There have been a lot of great workshops that really focused on the effects cover crops have on soil health and commodity crop productivity," Hendricks said.
"We've learned a lot about cover crop selection and establishment, but there just hasn't been as much information about how to manage them come spring."
One of the speakers will be Mike Plumer, a recently retired natural resources educator and researcher from the University of Illinois Extension.
Now working as a consultant with Conservation Agriculture, based out Creal, IIl. (near Evansville), Plumer has decades of whole-farm research and is very well known and respected for his work in no-till with annual rye cover crops. Annual rye is considered by many growers to be one of the toughest cover crops to manage in the spring.
Plumer and other presenters will focus on topics such as effective burn-down strategies to prepare for spring planting, the effects (both good and bad) of cover crops on weeds and insects, and residual effects of herbicides in cover crops.
Attendees will be eligible to receive credits for the Indiana Private Applicator Recertification Program (PARP).
Events run from 8:30-11 a.m., with breakfast and registration beginning at 7:30. Because seating is limited, telephone the Sullivan County SWCD at 812-268-5157 Ext. 3, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to make reservations.
The workshop has been organized through a partnership of the Clay, Greene, Sullivan and Vigo county SWCDs as well as Purdue Extension, the West Central Indiana Watershed Alliance, Ceres Crop Solutions, and Consultant Agriculture.
Funding was made possible through the Sullivan Farm Bureau and a Clean Water Indiana Grant received by the SWCDs to promote the use of cover crops and nitrification inhibitors.
The Clean Water Indiana (CWI) program provides financial assistance to landowners and conservation groups to support the implementation of conservation practices, which will reduce non-point sources of water pollution.
The CWI program receives dedicated funding from the Indiana cigarette tax and is administered by the Division of Soil Conservation under the direction of the State Soil Conservation Board.