The Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative has been around for a couple years, and builds off work started by the Indiana Conservation Initiative before that. Barry Fisher, state agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation District and former district conservationist at the Putnam County soil and water conservation district, has been involved in both initiatives. His mission is to help spread the word by answering practical, how-to questions from farmers who are serious about trying no-till, improving on their no-till program, or learning how to sue cover crops to do a better job of managing their soil and other natural resources.
Dan Towery and Hans Kok also are involved in this effort. They are actually co-leaders, and were featured on a cover a couple years back of Indiana Prairie Farmer, when the new initiative took root. They were examining a cover crop on Roger Wenning's farm near Greensburg. Wenning is the 2012 Indiana Association of Soil and War Conservation District's Supervisor of the Year. That award is sponsored annually by Indiana Prairie Farmer.
The Website, www.in.gov/isda/ccsi/ offers information on a variety of topics including cover crops and no-till. Cover crops have mushroomed to the point that they have overtaken no-till as the feature topic at many field days and programs sponsored by soil and water conservation districts. Some are still afraid to try them because they still fear killing them, especially annual ryegrass. Yet Fisher says there are practical ways to kill the cove r crop and take advantage of the benefits. One big benefit which he demonstrates throughout the state when he gets the chance is the role cover corps play in improving soil health.
He believes soil health has long been ignored, but it crucial for a productive environment, especially in no-till. With improved soil health, organic matter can increase, and the soil will maintain its structure if placed in water, yet allow water to infiltrate into the soil. Soils with poor structure because of decades of abuse, including being worked while still too wet, begin to flake off and fall apart if placed in water. They also don't imbibe added water, because they don't have the ability to do so.