Source: The Corydon Democrat

Celebrating Hoosier farmers
My Opinion

by Jane Hardisty

March 25, 2014

For most, celebrations of National Agriculture Day conjure up scenes of a farm family around a dinner table, a tractor planting corn or schoolchildren visiting a hog farm.

Although I grew up on a farm, when I think of Ag Week I see visions of healthy soil.

ďAgriculture: 365 Sunrises and 7 Billion Mouths to FeedĒ is this yearís Ag Day theme, and those who live and work in the agricultural community are keenly aware production will need to increase sharply over the next few decades in order to feed and clothe the world.

We must develop new technologies and techniques to produce more feed, fiber, food and fuel with less, less land, less water, less energy and fewer nutrient inputs. Thatís why the Natural Resources Conservation Service is focused on soil health.

During the past two years, NRCS has worked with hundreds of farmers in Indiana to improve the health of their soil. From every corner of the state, we are hearing stories of increased production and improved bottom line, all while improving the soil resource. Thatís good news for all of us at a time when we are faced with climate and sustainability challenges.

Itís not a new concept nor is it difficult to improve soil health. Hereís how: till the soil as little as possible; grow as many different species of plants as possible through rotations and a mixture of cover crops; keep living plants in the soil as long as possible; and keep the soilís surface covered with residue year-round.

A healthy soil is full of life (bacteria, fungi, microscopic insects, earthworms, etc.); high in organic matter; covered all the time by growing plants and/or their residues; and well structured (full of holes to allow for air and water movement).

Each day in Indiana, the NRCS partners with farmers and other private landowners to help them make good conservation decisions about their land. Whether itís on one acre or a thousand acres, sustaining our natural resources has never been more important.

As we celebrate Ag Day throughout this week, I want to thank Indianaís farm families for all you do to care for the land, improve the environment and provide us safe and affordable food. I look forward to continuing to work together to safeguard this irreplaceable resource: our soil!

You are invited to learn more about soil health and conservation practices. Stop by and talk with one of our district conservationists or visit our website, www.in.nrcs.usda.gov. To locate the office nearest you, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/in/contact/local/.

Editorís note: Jane Hardisty is the Indianaís Natural Resources Conservation Service state conservationist.