Making Connections through Cover Crops

Indiana is ground zero for cover crop adoption in the US, which made Indianapolis a great place to host this year’s National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. The Soil and Water Conservation Society and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation provided a valuable forum for many different voices to talk about revitalizing our soil, the continuous learning that we do in agriculture, and cover crops as one critical tool in our toolbox.

The North Central Region Soil Health Nexus met before the conference, making great strides on their research and outreach objectives. This land-grant led team will be conducting a multi-state soil health needs assessment early in 2018; watch for your opportunity to request research, outreach, and professional development products!

Kicking off the conference, David Montgomery reminded us just how wide and deep our soil degradation problems are. The next morning, Keith Berns told the story of carbon, soil, and our economy in a new way, hopefully opening the door for more of us to consider carbon, not as something to shy away from, but as more foundational to our economy than the dollars and cents we’re used to measuring, saving, and spending. There was a lot to learn and be inspired by in between – research on nitrogen management for crops and water quality; presentations about how cover crops pencil out in different farm operations; and economic opportunities for ag retailers and advisors.

Of all the thoughts and words exchanged during those two days, the ones I was most deeply moved by and curious about are those of farmers Dan DeSutter (Indiana), Trey Hill (Maryland) and Jimmy Emmons (Oklahoma). All three farmers have experienced the value of cover crops and healthy soils on improving their operations. They are all astute and successful businessmen, originally getting into cover crops and soil health for bottom-line reasons. They described their early forays into cover crops mechanistically, in terms of engineering, chemistry, and accounting. As they sat up on that stage in Indianapolis, they described how their thinking and practices evolved.  They talked about how they now are thinking more than ever before about the biology of their farm, how the organisms in the soil, the plants, animals, and people are in relationship and need to work together for the system to produce and to produce efficiently.

The window into how three people, three families, and three farming systems learned and adapted over time is priceless. Every farmer knows how complex their jobs are – how every thread they pull influences every other in ways that are sometimes difficult to predict.  Thanks again to these three for sharing not just how they’re farming now, but the paths they took to get to where they are today. Hopefully, the more we share stories like these, the easier it will be for other farmers to restore our soil and maintaining our ability to grow food, fiber, and fuel for future generations.


Rebecca Power, Network Director

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