Soil in a hand with earth worms in the soil

Weather, Water, and Soil Intersect in Indiana’s Climate Smart Agriculture Programs

Story by Hans Schmitz

Climate Smart Agriculture has been a buzzword over the past year, with the connotation that farms can play a large role in sequestering greenhouses gasses.  In order to do so, carbon in the upper layers of soil has to be increased, methane from ruminants must be lessened or harnessed to be converted to energy, and renewable energy resources have to be incorporated into farm management considerations.  In Indiana, many resources have been dedicated to progressing in this arena.  We just used a variety of other terms in the process.

Farming for A Better Climate (F4ABC) is a series of articles that aims to provide climate smart solutions on farm, from row crop options like cover crops to livestock manure management.  Each article operates under the assumption that farmers know best how to operate their farms, but also that a suite of alternative management options exist.  Farm management involves evaluating choices, some of which have opposing conservation and economic opportunity costs.  The series is a collaboration between Purdue Extension, the Purdue Institute for a Sustainable Future (formerly Purdue Climate Change Research Center), and the Indiana State Climate Office.

Images of roots for common cover crops
Based on drawings by Erwin Lichtenegger. Wageningen University & Research Image Collections. By permission: Plant Sociological Institute via Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

The Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative (CCSI) was created to improve soil health on Indiana’s cropland.   Indiana’s soil health principles are to maximize biodiversity, maximize soil cover, maximize living roots, and minimize soil disturbance.  The soil health principles, when followed, have a direct effect of increasing carbon sequestration on farmland and form the basis for climate smart agriculture.  CCSI helps the Indiana Conservation Partnership and member organizations host successful educational meetings, ensure consistent conservation messaging across the state, and even puts together the occasional multimedia suite of online tools for education.  Recently, CCSI began releasing cover crop root graphics to highlight the extent of roots on healthy cover crops and the difference between species.  Purdue Extension and CCSI partner to provide human agronomic resources as well, with the impending hiring of a second soil conservation coordinator for Indiana. 

Installation of a new weather station at Feldun Purdue Ag Center.  The buildout of Indiana’s mesonet began with stations on every Purdue farm in Indiana.

The Indiana State Climate Office has received funding from the United Soybean Board to explore farmer perceptions of current weather services around the state and what needs exist that currently are not addressed.  Indiana recently joined the National Mesonet Program and plans to build out a robust network of weather stations around the state that are regularly maintained and calibrated for quality data.  With this goal, the opportunity to receive feedback on what data would be most useful to farm operations is imperative.

With quality weather data, practices to increase soil health, and knowledge of climate change effects on the state, Indiana farmers can adopt practices that hold soil and nutrients in place, reducing water quality issues around the state, as well as reducing Indiana’s contribution to harmful algal blooms or hypoxic zones in other areas of the nation.  I am fortunate to be able to farm and promote conservation practices to other farmers around the state, as well as promote climate literacy on a regional and national scale.

Hans Schmitz, Lead Conservation Cropping Systems Agronomist for Purdue Extension and the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative

Headshot of Hans Schmitz

Hans Schmitz received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Agricultural Meteorology from Purdue University.  He has had official roles in five Southwestern Indiana counties over 14 years with Extension prior to serving as Lead Conservation Cropping Systems Agronomist for Purdue Extension and the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative.  He currently serves on the leadership team of the North Central Climate Collaborative and as a steering committee member of the National Extension Climate Initiative.  Hans lives in Cynthiana, Indiana, with his wife, Cindy, and two children.  In his spare time, Hans assists on the family farm, a sixth-generation grain and cattle operation. 

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